How Canva reduced American Cancer Society’s design turnaround from two days to five minutes

Canva helps this nonprofit find a united voice in achieving their big mission: ending cancer worldwide.

About the American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society'(opens in a new tab or window)s mission is to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer. They invest in lifesaving research, provide 24/7 information and support, and work to ensure that individuals in every community have access to cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. They are also the only organization that integrates advocacy, discovery, and direct patient support to measurably improve the lives of cancer patients and their families.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has more than 2,500 staff and 1.5 million volunteers across 250 different locations throughout the US. Together with the help of their fundraisers and donors, they have invested over $5 billion into cancer research and touched the lives of more than 3 million patients over the last decade.

American Cancer Society uses Canva’s Brand Kit to control and access their brand assets

The problem

With over 19.3 million new cases every year and more than 100 different types, cancer remains one of humanity’s biggest and most complex issues to solve. The more hands on deck and voices united in the fight against cancer, the better. But, for an organization of ACS’ size, too many inconsistent voices can be a challenge.

With staff and volunteers in multiple locations nationwide, ACS found that incoherent and off-brand campaign materials were often being distributed online. “We were finding that there was quite a lot of material out there that was not on brand and it wasn't representing our efforts well,” says Pat Deuschle, a marketing and communications project manager who joined ACS 12 years ago.

For nonprofits that rely on fundraising, brand consistency is critical. Off-brand or inaccurate posts asking for funding can cause confusion, breed skepticism, and dilute trust within the communities ACS serves. This uncertainty can act as a major barrier in efforts to collect donations.

“We were finding that you couldn't tell who posted specific content, because many posts had different graphics and a different look,” says Pat.

The organization needed professional, branded, and instantly-recognizable fundraising graphics that would do their mission justice. But their existing design tools were too cumbersome and time consuming to create these at scale — particularly for their event staff who were out in the field and needed to create something quickly.

While ACS does have a design team, they were often overloaded: particularly after mass staff reductions in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, not all design requests could be addressed immediately.

The solution

As it turns out, the answer to ACS’ design challenges was right under their noses. By 2020, thousands of their employees already had Canva personal accounts, or their department was paying for their Pro account. The creative team saw the potential to bring it all together into one, integrated design and digital asset management tool.

After a period of redundancy, Pat returned to ACS as a project manager in December of 2020 to help with the widespread Canva rollout. She worked alongside the leadership and communications team to put together a plan to get over 2,500 users set up on Canva for ACS Enterprise.

“We’re able to connect, give a shareable link to those toolkits in what our staff calls a development digest”
Pat Deuschle
Marketing & Communications Project Manager at American Cancer Society

How they did it

The Canva Transition Team knew that getting ACS’ people on board with Canva would be the easy part. “We knew the adoption [of Canva] was not going to be a big issue, because staff had already been using it,” she says.

Those early Canva adopters proved to be pivotal to the success of the ‘smooth’ rollout. They established a ‘Champion Group’ for those who were already using Canva to help train others on the tools, as well as a campaign Focus Group to test their adoption plan.

Much of the creative team’s groundwork was getting the templates, systems and workflows right from the get-go. The team collaborated with ACS’ marketers, copywriters and designers to create branded templates for social media graphics, email and website banners, print materials and sponsorship presentations. “To provide great templates for staff to use so that all of our assets are properly branded, that's our focus,” says Pat.

With a strong plan and the right advocates in place, ACS was well-placed to accomplish their company-wide goal with Canva: “To make the field staff’s work easier, while maintaining brand consistency,” says Pat.

Saves time for experts and beginners

While Canva was largely embraced by the wider ACS team, they found a tougher audience in their design team. Accustomed to using more advanced tools like Adobe InDesign, these design experts were rightfully hesitant about a more beginner-friendly counterpart. However, this skepticism quickly faded when the designers realized how much time Canva shaves off their workflow.

With a suite of templates that could be resized to various specifications at the click of a button, Canva has eliminated the “redundant design work” involved in resizing and reformatting. “The resizing is a huge time saver that's really helpful to our team,” says ACS designer, Steve Bouvier. Graphic requests that once took two days now take five minutes, giving the design team the time to focus on bigger picture tasks.

While ACS’ illustrators, designers and photographers still use InDesign to do the heavy lifting, their designs are imported into Canva to be more widely used by staff. “The output from Adobe will come into Canva to build out different elements,” says Pat.

With these professionally designed templates at their fingertips, marketing and field staff can quickly whip up polished and consistent promotional materials: no design skills required.

Easy organization and collaboration

With hundreds of fundraising campaigns to organize every year, Canva’s Folders tool has become the backbone of ACS’ design and marketing workflow. It allows them to make sure every team has the right assets, which can be localized for their region. “It was important to work out our folder structure at the beginning,” says Pat.

For each national or seasonal campaign, ACS has a folder with approved, branded templates for fundraising events. This includes social graphics, email headers, invitations, save the date graphics and more. Area business managers also create folders for their own teams, featuring all approved templates to use.

Canva’s collaboration tools also play an important role in preparing the folders for each campaign. Usually, designers, copywriters, creatives and marketing leads will collaborate on these designs, tagging and leaving comments as they go.

“There'll be multiple notes and then as soon as it's resolved … it goes on to the next person,” says Pat. Canva alleviates some of the back-and-forth communication, and allows these designs to move quickly through the approval process. That way, they make it to the marketing and events teams with plenty of lead time for upcoming events.

“It is very important for us to be able to make these assets available, so that everybody has the same messaging, has the right images, and it's easy for staff to disseminate,” says Pat.

Quick shareability

A digital-first approach

Social media has changed the game for nonprofits: giving them a direct line where they can communicate with their fundraisers or, in the case of ACS, their patients and wider community. “Our focus now is digital first,” says Pat.

Canva gives ACS the tools to meet these consumers exactly where they are, with personalized, hyper-local graphics. Whether it’s for Relay For Life® events or a cancer awareness week, the design team creates toolkits for each of their seasonal marketing campaigns. Each kit contains a collection of branded collateral, which can be updated with localized information and dates.

“We’re able to connect, give a shareable link to those toolkits in what our staff calls a ‘development digest’” says Pat. “It's just really easy for staff to hit the link and, use a template.”

ACS is also experimenting with using Canva to create short-form marketing videos. Their videographers edit longer videos from shoots or events using Premiere Pro, then use Canva to cut that down into snackable content.

“We want the majority of what our staff needs to be available in Canva, so [the video team is] giving us videos in multiple lengths for us to use,” says Pat. So far, the results have been promising. “[Video] storytelling is key, and we're getting an amazing response.”

The right message, every time

When handling an issue as important as cancer, getting things right is non-negotiable. Disseminating information in an accurate and sensitive manner is crucial — not only for the sake of fundraising, but also for the wellbeing of those who live with cancer.

For example, the images ACS uses in their graphic materials are “a big deal.” Canva has allowed them to curate a restricted image library with only approved photos, to prevent the likelihood of publishing incorrect, sensitive or triggering content.

“A lot of staff may not understand the type of people that we're allowed to represent as having cancer,” says Pat. “For instance, we can’t have any images that have cigarettes or tobacco in them because those can be triggers someone trying to quit smoking.” Having the right brand controls and templates in place removes the guesswork and uncertainty for ACS staff and empowers them to use best design practices.

Like many nonprofits, the American Cancer Society was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic: only recently have they begun slowly rehiring back staff. But, they’re also no strangers to adapting in the face of adversity: they see it happen in their inspiring patients every day. With their incredible staff and volunteers and empowering design tools like Canva to support them, they’ll undoubtedly continue to thrive and impact lives — no matter what challenges come their way.