5 tips for starting a community project

Firebelly shares five tips for designers who want to give back to their communities.

What is it about art and design that can help shattered communities draw meaning from tragedy and start rebuilding together? From beautiful vintage posters to incredible street art, there is often so much creativity in areas hit by hardship.

It's clear that we, as designers, can use our skills to help our own communities. But how can we get involved?

Whether you're hoping to work at a grassroots level with communities at home or abroad, chances are there's a local organisation that brings people together near you. Both the Social Enterprise Alliance and +Acumen have events and local chapters all over the world, while global community publication Good magazine is packed with resources and inspirational stories.

And if you can't find exactly the right fit for your skills, why not set up your own project? Dawn Hancock, graphic designer and owner of Chicago-based studio Firebelly Design, launched non-profit organisation Reason to Give in 2007 as a way for her growing design firm to give back to its own backyard.

What began as a 'cool website' designed with the dream of helping a handful of local families, has developed into a strong organisation reaching hundreds and changing lives.

Here Hancock shares five tips for designers who want to give back to their communities.

01. Start small

Dawn Hancock launched non-profit organisation Reason to Give in 2007 as a way for Firebelly to give back to its own backyard

Don't try to bite off more than you can chew. If what you're doing impacts one person, you've been successful. And once you see that success on a small scale, you will be able to find ways to replicate it in larger endeavours. But it will be a lot harder to make really big changes straight away and could easily end up discouraging you instead.

02. Talk to the community

Find out what they need and want. Don't assume you already know. When we started Reason to Give, we went around and talked to local leaders in our neighborhood churches, community centres and schools.

They not only provided us with great information and important historical insights, they were also our biggest advocates when we launched, helping our program to gain traction in the community immediately.

03. Be willing to pivot

Annual exhibition Typeforce was conceived by Dawn Hancock and Ed Marszewski to show Chicago artists they needn't move to have a career

Once you're knee deep in the thick of it, it's tough to step back and see the bigger picture. But it is really important to continually survey the larger effort to ensure you are on track.

We have learned a lot from talking to the individuals in our program and every year have continued to adjust to their pressing needs.

04. Be realistic

Understand that no matter what you're trying to accomplish, it's going to be a lot of hard work and it is likely to have many setbacks. You have to stay the course and know that whatever challenges you face, they are lessons learned once you get through them.

05. Start with some financial resources

It's easy to think that if you start a nonprofit, you'll be able to find grant money to support your cause. And that might be partially true, but chances are they will want to see some proof of concept before writing a cheque. Plan ahead and prepare for the worst.

Words: Julia Sagar

These tips originally featured in Computer Arts 247, an issue that puts a fresh twist on typography, with 18 ways to speed up your workflow and exclusive insights from the team behind C4's first major rebrand.

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