How To Find Your WHY by Helping Nonprofits

Insights & Tips

How We Found Our WHY by Helping Nonprofits

Founder of ILLUSIO, Chuck Spidell has been slaying pixels for over 19 years. We were fortunate to talk to him and ask how he went from a traditional ad agency guy to running a design company that specializes in helping nonprofits and mission-driven businesses with a cause.

"One of the first non-profit projects I ever worked on was for the Sierra Club’s Ventana Chapter back in 2000. It’s great because they’re still using my design from many years ago. That project was a lot of fun for me, and I'd have to say that's what really got me into environmental and sustainable scene. I've always been a big hiker and doing work for them fit into my own personal beliefs about wanting to do more for the environment."

Ten years later he had a bigger epiphany. ILLUSIO was working with the humanitarian organization CARE to create a website to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake. He remembers, "Working on that project was very intense. We were designing during the Haiti disaster, and I was being sent photographs from CARE in real-time. I’m at my computer looking at the these high-quality, professional images of despair: these women, children and their families. When you see pictures like that you can’t help but feel helpless, like there’s nothing you can do."

It was then that it came to him, "I can help these people. If I design something that’s strategic and compels other people who believe what I believe and to want to help, then I’m successful. The money is going to get back to and help the people of Haiti. It was during that project that I learned that design can save the world."

CARE Help Haiti

Obviously, it had a huge impact on his life. Chuck remarked, “After that I was hooked. I thought, ‘I want to do more projects like this. I want to help more nonprofits and truly make a difference in the world. There’s thousands, hundreds of thousands of nonprofits that need help with branding and websites. It’s just a matter of finding them or them finding us.'”

It didn’t take long. With some work on their part, of course. While attending a networking event for sustainable businesses called EcoTuesday, he discovered CivicActions, a company that specializes in creating Drupal websites for large nonprofits.

I can help these people. If I design something that’s strategic and compels other people who believe what I believe and to want to help, then I’m successful. The money is going to get back to and help the people of Haiti. It was during that project that I learned that design can save the world.

- Chuck Spidell

How he found them is a story that most designers will appreciate. He loved the design of the EcoTuesday site so much that he wanted to find out who created it. It was CivicActions. After checking out their site and finding out that their clients include Amnesty International, Smithsonian Institute, and Democracy Now!, he inquired about a potential collaboration.

A month later he received an email back from the CivicActions team and not long after he was working with them on a site redesign for a Columbia University’s Global Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) program. A full nonprofit funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the MDP program has students setting up irrigation in Rwanda, combating food insecurity in Ethiopia, and improving literacy in Bolivia. Since that first project, CivicActions and Illusio have formed an ongoing relationship, working together on projects for BikeNYCPrivacy International, and Lambent Foundation.

When asked how he finds his clients, aside from going to networking groups, he said he’s found more than one client on Twitter. In fact, he’s found more than one RFP on Twitter. Though he pointed out, no one can answer an RFP in under 140 characters. Aside from that it’s about getting a great site together and making sure clients can find your work using savvy SEO.

Though Chuck treats his for profit and nonprofit clients exactly the same (always providing the best work), he finds that the motivation is different when dealing with nonprofits. He said, “For those clients, there’s a bigger mission. This is real life and these are real people who are oftentimes in dire situations. There’s something very tangible about that. That knowledge absolutely changes the motivation behind the work you’re doing.”

Even running his own design company and raising a family, he still finds the time to volunteer. His company redesigned and maintaining the website for Depave, whose mission is removing unnecessary pavement in urban areas to create community green spaces. He and his wife also helped brand their local farmers market. He said, “We redesigned their website, created billboards, posters, buttons, and more. It’s really important to give back to your community when you have time or make the time for it. It’s great to get away from your own worries for a while. Have fun and help someone else out. Again that’s the whole tangible thing about working with nonprofits. Give more than you take.”

Chuck’s advice to anyone who’d like to follow ILLUSIO's footsteps?

"If you want to work with nonprofits, start locally within your community. Find a few organizations that where you share the same belief of their mission and values. Find something that speaks to you, learn about their projects, and reach out to volunteer." Once you’ve gotten work with one nonprofit, others will see what you believe and get excited to work with you”

One final piece of advice: “When you do work for nonprofits, even if you’re doing it pro-bono, make sure the work is high-quality. Treat them with the same level of integrity that you do for your for-profit clients. They deserve and need it more than ever right now.”

Thanks again to Chuck (and his family) for his time to spread a little more social good!

originally as part of the Webby Connect series by Vitamin T

By Chuck Spidell, the Nonprofit WordPress Security Expert who helps communications teams free up their time and lock down WordPress from getting hacked.