Contrary to popular belief that nonprofit is free (translation: unrewarding) work, I find designing for non-profit organisations very rewarding.
My life as a website designer started with a nonprofit organisation in late 2005. Since then, I have designed or revamped websites for at least six nonprofit organisations (and continue to do so). Although each project was a unique experience in itself, here is the list of my experiences with all the nonprofit ventures:
Clarity of vision = fast decision making
The most difficult task when designing a website for a private enterprise is to understand their expectations. It takes days, if not weeks, to gain insight into an organisation's web strategy. Different departments and individuals within the same enterprise may have divergent views towards website vision.
With nonprofits, this process is quite simple. Nonprofit organisations know their need. A one-hour conversation with the founder is sufficient to understand the organisation's vision and develop web strategy. I don’t remember any incident where I had to send them a long list of questions (not to mention multiple follow ups).
Opportunity to learn new skills
There are certain skills that you would want to learn, but don’t get the opportunity in your current job. Lack of intellectual challenge, over time, results in professional and personal development stagnation.
With nonprofits, you have full freedom to be as creative as you want with no restrictions, which means no more old corporate design templates. Not only has working with nonprofit organisations helped me learn technical skills, I've also gained confidence to communicate and present effectively.
Get recognised for your work
After spending many years in the industry as a freelancer, I know very well all the hoops you have to jump through to display your name on corporate websites (even when you are a one person army from conception to implementation of that website). At times you might be able to give yourself credit (name in small font at the footer), but good luck getting acknowledgment the rest of the time.
Nonprofits know how to give credit to people who work for them. Your work is not only valued by the organisation, but also by their donors, partners and supporters. It increases the chance of finding a paid gig.
Build a healthy portfolio
After facing a few employment rejections from companies and agencies, for obvious reasons including not having experience or work to show, I decided to volunteer as a website designer for a nonprofit. My first break in my first contract position was because of my experience and portfolio that I gained working for nonprofits.
Designing for nonprofits has helped me develop and add more quality works to my portfolio to show to prospective clients. I now have the best pieces to display, talk about and be proud of.
Feeling of accomplishment
All experiences listed above pale in comparison to the feeling of accomplishment I get with nonprofit work. I doubt I would ever have that feeling if I worked as a full-time employee.
At the end of each project I feel a sense of contribution to society, have mastered a few new skills and recieve the praises from the founder, director and board members of the organisation. All things considered, nonprofit work is great.
Designing for nonprofits has been an extremely rewarding experience for me. For anyone starting out on their own with no experience and no portfolio (almost a blank resume), my advice would be to volunteer with a nonprofit.
Finally, when you work with a nonprofit, be open-minded, creative and helpful. In other words, just be you.