Using data and design to build a brighter future for LA

Using data and design to build a brighter future for LA

The Goldhirsh Foundation is a nonprofit company that provides grants to emerging talent whose ideas can shape Los Angeles and change the world. Its biggest initiative to date — LA2050 — calls on the community to help build a better future for LA.

Many people want to make life better for their cities and communities. They just don’t know where to start.

That’s why the Goldhirsh Foundation aimed to be the go-to resource for Los Angelenos looking to build a brighter future for LA. They began in 2011 by launching LA2050, a research and reporting initiative that tracks progress towards a shared vision for the city, and identifies organizations and entrepreneurs that can help bring that vision life — ideally by the year 2050.

LA2050 website homepage

LA2050 website

Still, this posed a major challenge: how can one small nonprofit reach millions of Los Angelenos and empower them to make their voices heard? How can they share their research with these communities, gather feedback, and keep them engaged along the way?

Answer: with the power of digital design.

“We tried to be as inclusive and as collaborative as possible,” said Megan Park, Social Innovation and Design Coordinator for the Goldhirsh Foundation. “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 used design to build a cohesive brand for LA2050, and social graphics to spread that brand’s message across the city.

As Park said, “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.”

Here are five design strategies the Goldhirsh Foundation used to reach its audience and help build a brighter future for its city.

01. Host interactive Twitter ‘parties’

Which one of these invitations is more enticing?

  1. Join us for our information session.
  2. Join us for our Twitter Party!

There’s a good chance you chose Option B. The Goldhirsh Foundation did, too.

The company wanted its message to be as optimistic and inspirational as possible – despite the fact that it was tackling some sobering issues. Yes, they had to talk realistically about homelessness and pollution, but it was always through the lens of improving on these problems and creating a brighter tomorrow.

That’s where Twitter parties came in. 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.

LA2050 goals

LA2050’s five core objectives

“We realized this is a lot of content for any average citizen to digest,” Park said. “So we created Twitter parties to engage Angeleno followers, and also to bring other nonprofits into these conversations that we guide.”

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.

Heal the Bay IG post

Twitter post shared by Heal the Bay

Create your own Twitter party invitations in Canva with templates like Pink Tiki Invitation and Surprise Party Invitation.

“Together, we created set of questions that we shared on Twitter,” Park said. “We ask a question, and people can respond. We ask another question, people respond, we retweet, we reply. That’s the general format.”

During the Twitter party, LA2050 and Heal the Bay tackled everything from where your faucet water really comes from and how to adapt during times of drought to recent water conservation movements and how water pollution impacts our health.

#KnowTheFlow was just one of 20 Twitter parties that LA2050 has hosted since 2013. 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 them 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,” Park said. “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.”

02. Create original Instagram graphics

Instagram is one of the Goldhirsh Foundation’s most promising social channels.

“LA2050 has built itself to be a very visual brand,” Park said. “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 Instagram stream

LA2050: Instagram stream

“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.

IG post shared by LA2050

Instagram post shared by LA2050

Create your own Instagram graphics in Canva with templates like Blue Yellow Confetti Circle Party Instagram Post and Pink and Dark Purple Patterned State Fairs Instagram Post.

LA2050 also creates original designs for inspirational quotes, like this one from famed writer Henry Miller.

IG post by LA2050

Instagram post shared by LA2050

Create your own quotable Instagram graphics in Canva with templates like Pink Roses Quote Flower Instagram Post and Black Bar Modern Quotes Summer Instagram Post.

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.”

03. Release bi-monthly email newsletters

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,” Park said. “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 branding and design to tie all of this information together and build an easy-to-read format. For example, Park will create a series of cohesive email headers for each newsletter.

LA2050 newsletter header

LA2050 newsletter

Build your own email newsletter in Canva with templates like Yellow Dark Grey Modern Newsletter and Colorful Modern Newsletter.

These graphics help keep readers engaged as they scroll through the newsletter and find the information that best suits their interests.

04. Design data visualization reports

It’s one thing to say you’ll make your city a better place to learn, create, play, connect, and live. It’s another to continuously track progress towards those goals, and develop original research and reporting to keep your community updated along the way.

That’s what the Goldhirsh Foundation does with its LA2050 reports. These reports are meant to measure the quality of life in LA and analyze the work of LA2050 grantees as they help improve issues in the city.

LA2050 reports

LA2050 reports

Build your own visually captivating reports in Canva with this template Blue and White Graph General Report.

Still, reports can ask a lot from your readers. It’s tougher to slog through a multi-page document than it is to consume a short tweet or Instagram post. That’s why LA2050 needed to figure out how to make its reports as engaging as possible.

“Reports are my favorite thing to work on,” Park said. “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,” Park said.

Take these pages from a report about the 2016 My LA2050 Grants Challenge. They incorporate pops of color, icons, subheadings, and charts to convey the information and make it easy to read.

Incorporate graphs and charts into your reports with Canva templates like White and Yellow Graph Daily Report and Blue Lines Pattern with Orange Graphs Daily Report.

“At the end of the day, we’re really an initiative about civic engagement – having people understand and be curious about their city and the state of other Angelenos who live here,” Park said. “So as we’re moving the barriers of civic engagement as often as possible, 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.”

Once the reports are completed, the Goldhirsh Foundation then needs to get them in front of an audience. Sure, people can check them out if they visit the site and peruse the ‘Reports’ tab. But what about those people who don’t know about LA2050 yet or aren’t aware of their original research?

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 that we do,” Park said. “Yes, a multi-page report is the home for all of the content and the research we collect. But it’s really through sharing that content across multiple channels that we feel like our reporting is able to engage.”

Specifically, Park will pick out the most interesting and relevant stats, and create original graphics around them for social media. Her team then uses Buffer and Hootsuite to schedule each social post. 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,” Park said. “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.”

This Twitter graphic, for instance, was pulled from the LA2050 Vision for a Successful Los Angeles report.

LA2050 Twitter post

Twitter post shared by LA2050

This distribution strategy even helps Park while she’s designing 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.’”

05. Grow the digital brand

LA2050 couldn’t have built such an engaged community without developing its online brand and clarifying its message.

At the end of the day, what really continues the work of nonprofit organizations is the communities they serve and the individuals they’re helping.

“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.”

The hard work doesn’t end there, however. Once you find your story, you need to figure out how to make it accessible to your audience. Park 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,” Park said. “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.”

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