Graphic design for the web since 1998


"...both of my companies have enjoyed
Susan's design professionalism; wonderful
work that absolutely and clearly reflects
the intentions of the client..." - Florence P.

Design Resources - Tips

Design Tips for Non-Profits and First-Time Clients

For the most part, over the years, I have had good experiences working with non-profit organizations and first-time clients. I do however think this depends on the type of company. Some of them have been theatrical companies, and since we know that the "arts" funding and budgets have been slashed, I'm always willing to help them when I can.

Since the Spring of this year and the launch of my blog with Mary Jo Rhodes, Frogs Are Green, more non-profit agencies have been coming my way. I've been writing estimates for different types of companies, from theatrical companies to environmental agencies and charitable organizations. The assignments range from blog or website design, to brochures, signage and print marketing.

From my experiences, both good and bad, I want to share a few tips to keep in mind when working with non-profits or first-time clients.

1- Just because a company is a non-profit, it doesn't mean they don't have the money to pay you. Make sure to write an estimate, get a signed contract, and a partial payment up front. This way if they cannot find the funds for the balance, at least you were paid something. You should always divide up the payments, so there are milestones. You also have the option of a suing if you've got the documents in writing and signed, and the client didn't pay.

2- You believe in their cause and that's why you're working with them, but don't let them take advantage of you, by having you revise over and over. Make sure the amount of "rounds" were written in your estimate and/or contract, so both parties know what to expect. Make sure the client knows that if the scope of the project changes, the price goes up.

3- Make sure that you know who you're working with. If a certain person hired you, but then all of a sudden you seem to be taking corrections or working with a bunch of different people. Stop. Talk to the person who hired you, have them field all opinions and have that person write or call you.

4- Make sure that the client only has low resolution files, and once all payments are made, you give over the final files or high resolution work. I know this can be difficult, because many clients won't pay the balance till they know they have the files, but it's important to at least attempt this. Now, I'm not saying this should always be done, only with first-time clients. Too many times a client takes the work and you do not get the balance, or hear from them again.

5- I suggest a bit a research on the first-time client. Look them up on Google, who are they?, learn about their company. Make sure you know who you're working with.

6- Some clients have day jobs and work on their company or non-profit on off hours. May sure they're not calling you on those off hours. When you work all day and want to relax in the evening, you don't want clients calling to discuss projects.

7- Design may be subjective, but our business is no different than any other. If you hire someone to paint your house, and after they're finished you decide you don't like the color, do you think the painter will not expect payment? What if you decide now you want him/her to start over with a new color, don't you think they'll expect to be paid more? So, why in the design profession does it seem acceptable, if someone isn't happy with the result, they can walk away without keeping up their end of the agreement? A perfect example of this practice would be an online job search listings website, where a client can hire you and put a payment into escrow. I will never agree to this because as I just stated they can withdraw if unsatisfied, or they might be satisfied and planning to use the concepts without your knowledge. Escrow agreements are a terrible idea and quite one-sided.

8- My policy is a simple one. If you want to know what I would design for you, and you alone, you must hire me to find out. And absolutely no free sketches! Let me repeat that, never give away your ideas for free, unless you're truly compelled to do something! My years of experience and portfolio should speak for the quality of what someone would get. If there aren't enough design examples in my portfolio, for you to know what you would get from me, then you're probably not a client I want to work with.

9- Knowing when to walk away. Sometimes with all good intentions an assignment gets out of hand. Recently, I was engaged to revise something for an individual. With each round of revisions made, I received, in the mail, a printout with a ton of additional corrections. After completing my third and final round, the client gave me some new guidelines on the project, and if I were to go to a fourth round, with these new guidelines, I was going to have to start over. Instead of asking for more compensation, I chose to walk away. The whole experience did not go well, and I knew it was never going to end. I made the smart decision in this case.

10- I want say a little about mutual respect. I work very hard for my clients, and I'm very thankful for each client I gain. I treat them with respect and will always do all that I can. By respecting my clients and gaining their respect in return, I'm fortunate to have a lot of repeat business. I'm proud that so many of the websites I've designed are still online, year after year. Whenever my clients need something they know they can count on me.

In summary...

You've done all the work, created something of value, and the client isn't fulfilling their end of this agreement. This is always going to be different for each individual and assignment. I have had and heard my share of complaints. Sometimes, you'll go to court and sometimes you'll just be upset and let it go. We have to determine each case as it comes along, but if we can remember to be careful, and protect ourselves, this business will always go better for us.