The Goldhirsh Foundation is a nonprofit company that provides grants to emerging talent whose ideas can shape Los Angeles and change the world. They began in 2011 by launching LA2050, a research and reporting initiative that tracks progress towards a shared vision for the city. It identifies organizations and entrepreneurs that can help bring that vision to life by the year 2050.
Starting out, their biggest challenge was how a small nonprofit could reach millions of Los Angelenos and empower them to make their voices heard. How could they share their research with these communities, gather feedback, and keep them engaged along the way?
“We tried to be as inclusive and as collaborative as possible,” Social Innovation and Design Coordinator, Megan Park, says. “LA is such a sprawl of a city, and there are so many different communities here. Because of this really aspirational mission, we realized how much this mass of people needed to be targeted digitally.”
The Goldhirsh Foundation knew the solution to their challenge was design. So they used Canva to create a cohesive brand for LA2050 and social graphics to spread that brand’s message across the city.
“We’re asking so many people how they see the future of LA. So we had to make sure we created this feedback loop where there are multiple ways for people to engage with us,” Megan says.
Megan was kind enough to share five design strategies the Goldhirsh Foundation used to reach its audience and help build a brighter future for Los Angeles.
LA2050 started hosting Twitter parties in 2013 to spark live discussions around common goals. Specifically, they worked with the community to outline five core objectives for the city. LA2050 also tracks each objective with in-depth research, metrics, and reports.
“We realized this is a lot of content for any average citizen to digest,” Megan says. “So we created Twitter parties to engage Angeleno followers, and also to bring other nonprofits into these conversations that we guide.”
LA2050’s five core objectives
Last Spring, for example, LA2050 partnered with Heal the Bay – a local nonprofit that helps protect the coastline and revitalize waterways – to host a #KnowTheFlow Twitter party. The two companies created original Twitter graphics to promote the event and encourage people to participate.
“Together, we created a set of questions that we shared on Twitter,” Megan says. “We ask a question, and people can respond. We ask another question, people respond, we retweet, we reply. That’s the general format.”
Twitter post shared by Heal the Bay
This strategy has helped them gain social media followers, engage communities around hot-button issues, gather feedback, and get their brand out there. It’s also allowed them to share the power of social engagement with other small and local nonprofits.
“Often when we talk to our grantees and other nonprofits, they say – besides funding – their priority is awareness and communications,” Megan says. “When you’re an organization that’s strapped for capacity, it’s not always easy to set aside time for social media and branding. And so we’re really excited about the encouragement from our communities around that.”
Instagram is one of the Goldhirsh Foundation’s most promising social channels.
“LA2050 has built itself to be a very visual brand,” Megan says. “We recognize that photography often speaks much louder than tweets, so we use Instagram to both share content – photos of other nonprofits that we care about – and create our own graphics.”
LA2050 creates infographics that feature snackable, real-time facts about Los Angeles. They take hard facts and make them easy to consume and share.
LA2050: Instagram stream
The Goldhirsh Foundation continues to test different strategies to gauge what its audience responds to best. Most recently, LA2050 started #FollowFridays on its Instagram Stories. The idea is to feature and promote other nonprofits that also work to build a better future for LA. It doesn’t necessarily boost followers for LA2050, but it does helps spread the company’s message and build support for the overall goal.
“We noticed that the follower count (for a featured organization) increased right after those Stories happened,” Park said. “We don’t know for sure if it was our story that led to the additional followers, but we’re excited to continue to test that.”
LA2050 sends email newsletters twice a month to an audience of 130,000 readers. Each edition features a wealth of information, including recent news and developments, upcoming events, and opportunities to help drive change.
“We also highlight as many nonprofits and social animators as we can,” Megan says. “The goal behind promoting those organizations is to really have Angelenos feel connected to the work that’s being done on the ground.”
LA2050 uses Canva to create a series of cohesive email headers for each newsletter, using branding and design to tie all of this information together and build an engaging newsletter.
It’s one thing to say you’ll make your city a better place. It’s another to continuously track progress and share updates with your community along the way. So, the Goldhirsh Foundation created LA2050 reports, which measure the quality of life in LA and analyze the work of LA2050 grantees as they help improve issues in the city.
“Reports are my favorite thing to work on,” Megan says, “but we understand that a lot of the information we collect and want to share tends to be dense. Unless they are totally bought in, people won’t really respond to a PDF or report format.”
LA2050 has used a couple of key strategies to keep readers interested, the first is data visualization.
“We make sure that the bigger numbers or stats are accompanied with a simple graphic,” Megan says.
Twitter post shared by LA2050
“At the end of the day, we’re really an initiative about civic engagement so we’re trying to make sure that we’re empowering people with relevant stats and information that might help promote or at least ignite some civic action within our followers,” Megan says.
Once the reports are completed, the Goldhirsh Foundation then needs to get them in front of an audience and that’s where the second strategy comes in: slicing up content to distribute on social media.
“We’re an organization that leans so heavily on the reports,” Megan says. “but it’s really through sharing that content across multiple channels that we feel like our reporting is able to engage.”
LA2050 also creates original designs for inspirational quotes, like this one from famed writer Henry Miller.
Instagram post shared by LA2050
Specifically, Megan will pick out the most interesting and relevant stats and create original infographics around them for social media. This helps them extend the lifetime of their reports and boost their regularly scheduled social content in the process.
“We use these stats as evergreen content,” Megan says. “There are going to be days when our team is busy and we are not necessarily sharing new content. So we’ve used these two platforms to schedule posts from the report every few days or weeks. It’s always in the back of our heads and on top of our regular content.”
Thinking about how to extend the reach and maximising the audience for these reports helps Megan in the planning and design phase of the reports. “It’s been really nice to have this social media arm as I’m creating the content,” she said. “The more visually compelling each section can be, the easier it is for us to repurpose that for a different social media platform. So it’s been a lot for us to learn in what ways can we be as concise and as succinct as possible.”
She added, “Especially for nonprofits that have to create impact reports every year to continue to fundraise and seek out philanthropic funders, this is just another way to prove that – ‘hey, we’re an organization that can communicate the work we’re doing and tell stories more thoughtfully.’”
“It’s been interesting to see Instagram transform for us,” Park added. “Before we were a little bit more candid with our photography, but now we have a lot of graphic-heavy content.”
For example, LA2050 builds graphics that feature snackable, real-time facts about Los Angeles. They take hard facts and make them easy to consume and share. Take this one, which highlights a statistic about LA’s creative community.
LA2050 was able to build such an engaged community thanks to its strong brand identity and clear messaging.
“Being able to tell a really compelling story should always be a priority as it leads to fundraising and communicating with other philanthropic partners. And it leads to volunteers and other engaged constituents who want to continue to interact with the organization,” Megan says.
Once you find your story, you need to figure out how to make it accessible to your audience. Megan suggests stepping into their shoes, and asking: What do they care about? What do they fear? What do they want to accomplish? Answer these questions, and then meet people in the middle by sharing your message through the power of design and social engagement.
“Having a digital brand is essential,” Megan says. “And I think [our work] has encouraged a lot of other nonprofits and grantees to be mindful of the way that they use social media, as we’ve all seen this huge appetite for this type of content.”
LA2050 couldn’t have built such an engaged community without developing its online brand and clarifying its message.