It’s hard to grab people’s attention on social media. Distractions and engaging content lie at every turn — especially for young consumers who often live life on their phones. That’s why nonprofits need to use visually enticing designs to get their messages across.

DoSomething.org is a nonprofit that empowers young people across the globe to get involved in something bigger than themselves—both online and off—and drive positive change.

DoSomething blog banner
DoSomething blog banner

And they use design to help make it happen.

“At DoSomething.org, we know young people want to get involved in their communities. In fact, 98% of them do; they just don’t know how,” said Keri Goff, Creative Director at DoSomething.org. “That’s where we come in. It is our job to empower young people and give them actions they can take in their communities and the world, to make it a better place.”

The nonprofit hosts a wealth of campaigns that young people can take part in, such as Treats for Troops, a Halloween candy drive for military service members; Caption Obvious, which helps YouTubers make better captions for deaf viewers; and Shower Songs, which uses music to help people take shorter showers.

With over 5.5 million participants, DoSomething.org has already clothed half the young people in America's homeless shelters, cleaned up 3.7 million cigarette butts from the streets, and hosted the largest youth-led sports equipment drive in the world.

As Goff said, “A unique challenge we have at DoSomething is the fact that we are ‘cause agnostic.’ We don’t just focus on the water crisis, education, or the school-to-prison pipeline….we cover it all.”

And they’re just getting started.

Here’s how DoSomething.org uses design to empower young advocates to get involved in their communities and make a difference.

Be relevant, inspiring, and never just “meh”

The first rule of marketing is to know your audience. For DoSomething.org, that core demographic is young people aged 13-25. And the DoSomething.org team knows they only have a couple of seconds to grab their attention.

DoSomething Twitter Header
DoSomething Twitter Header

“Their social feeds are already so crowded with content from their friends as well as sponsored content from brands,” Goff said. “So how do we stand out?”

The answer is with three brand tenets: relevant, inspiring, never just “meh.”

“The Creative Team always has these three on our mind and I’m probably two seconds away from getting it as a tattoo,” Goff said. “For young people, it’s all about disrupting their space and creating content they want (or never knew they needed).”

For example, in preparation for the 2017 holiday season, DoSomething.org created an infographic guide called “9 Tips for Surviving Political Conversations With Your Family During the Holidays.” It uses simple design, bold text, and Fall colors to help young people turn uncomfortable situations into opportunities for productive and valuable conversations.

Get the look and build your own holiday-themed graphic in Canva with templates like Orange and Browns November Charity Infographic and Classic Pumpkin Pie Recipe Infographic.

This guide was released as a part of the Defend Dreamers campaign, which empowers people to protect and show gratitude for young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children.

The campaign also included printable and shareable flyers like this one, which encouraged people to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) with a simple text.

DefendDreamers
#DefendDreamers: Facebook post shared by DoSomething

This content is eye-catching, topical, and easy to digest. Despite its serious nature, it holds its own in a social feed that might include pictures from a friend’s party or fun animal videos.

As Goff said, “It is our job to stay on top of new design trends and follow brands that our demographic follows. That way we can always have a competitive edge with the content we are creating.”

These brand tenets are also evident in two other recent campaigns: Thumb Wars, which aims to stop texting and driving, and Planet Zombie, which spreads awareness about the dangers of climate change.

“For Thumb Wars and Planet Zombie, our designer took the illustration approach,” Goff said. “This helps take serious topics like texting and driving and climate change and make them more approachable and relatable.”

Take this Instagram Story for Thumb Wars:

And this interactive SMS game for Zombie Planet:
Backed by these fantastical and compelling designs, the campaigns flourished, inspiring over 80,000 participants each.

Go to where your audience is

This is another tenet of the DoSomething.org creative team: “Go to where they are.” In other words, find out where your audience is active and meet them there. This is especially important for reaching young audiences, who are often active on social media.

“We are constantly building content for specific demographics,” Goff said. “We know that young people don’t consume content the way old people do (and don’t get offended - anyone over 25 is considered an old person at DoSomething).”

That’s why, to reach young people, DoSomething.org creates social graphics.

Take this interactive Twitter graphic inviting viewers to guess what’s under the black censor bar. As the accompanying text states, users can text “FOMO” or visit the campaign page to find the answer: “drive without a seat belt.”

DoSomething Twitter
Twitter post shared by DoSomething

DoSomething.org also releases enticing Instagram graphics to keep audiences informed about current world issues. On Instagram, for example, the nonprofit ran the “Dreamers Series” featuring quotes from DoSomething members affected by DACA and the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, otherwise known as The DREAM Act.

DoSomething IG
Instagram post shared by DoSomething

Create your own quote graphics in Canva with templates like Timeless Minimalist Instagram Post and Blue Typographic Inspirational Instagram Post.

DoSomething.org takes a different approach, however, when reaching older audiences. For instance, they release Quarterly Dashboards for partners and donors who want to stay up to date on the nonprofit’s progress and impact.

Here’s a look at the biannual dashboards for 2017. It includes everything from campaign overviews and corporate partners to select campaign participants and new team members.

2017-Dashboard-Q1-Q2-1

Create your own reports in Canva with templates like Black Corporate Company Annual General Sales Report and Yellow and White Circle General Report.

This content takes longer to consume, but it still holds readers’ attention with a strong color palette, original photography, and an intuitive layout.

“When we design for ‘old people,’ we know we have more time with their attention spans before they decide to move on to something else,” Goff said. “Content we tend to create for this audience can vary between bi-annual dashboards reviewing all of our accomplishments, advisory board documents, and events such as our annual gala or summit.”

Put the power in supporters’ hands

DoSomething.org knows it’s not enough to just reach young audiences online. You also have to empower them to take action. After all, the name of the company is DoSomething, not ConsumeSomething.

That’s why the design team arms its content with calls to action that inspire people to get out and make a difference. For instance, they distribute invitations to in-person events, like this Facebook graphic promoting a bootcamp program for budding changemakers.

Social Impact Bootcamp
DoSomething's Social Impact Bootcamp: Facebook post shared by DoSomething

They also post Instagram graphics like this one encouraging viewers to not just be aware of global issues but also help those in need. This post pointed to a link in the @DoSomething bio with resources on how to aid people affected by the hurricane.

Irma Instagram
Instagram post shared by DoSomething

Create your own Instagram graphics in Canva with templates like Building Perspective Instagram Post and Dark Green and Red Public Service Announcements Instagram Post.

Design with purpose

After all, design can be pretty and it can stop your scrolling thumbs. But without heart, without a purpose, without a reason for existing, it won’t keep people interested. And it won’t inspire them to share and make a difference. Only after infusing your content with purpose will you build an engaged audience of advocates and supporters.

As Goff said, “I was told earlier on in my career to ‘design with purpose’ and that has always stuck with me.”

That’s why, no matter what content she’s creating, she’s always thinking about the following questions:

  • Does it evoke emotion? (Does it make you happy, mad, or sad?)
  • Does it give the audience a reason to care?
  • Is it relevant to the time, platform, and audience?

As the above graphics show, the answers to these questions can — and should be — “yes.” With this approach, DoSomething can inspire an entire generation of activists and effectively complete its mission: “creating the most socially conscious, socially responsible, socially active generation of young people the world has ever seen.”

Amanda Walgrove is a freelance copywriter based in Los Angeles. She has written for Facebook, A&E Networks, Advertising Week, Entrepreneur, and Variety, among others. She likes to write comedy, too: amandawalgrovecomedy.com