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Every in-house team struggles with it at some point: not enough money to accomplish the job the way we’d like to. Free fonts and cheap stock photos may work in a pinch, but the phrase “you get what you pay for” definitely rings true for design. As the head of a small in-house team at the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), I’ve found a few ways to improve our team’s work by finding resources wherever I could.
If my team is working on a small brochure or report and the client says they have $5,000 to spend, I’ll always ask if they can make it $6,000 or $6,500—enough to buy a few better photos or nicer paper, but not enough to break the bank. If that doesn’t work, we’ll typically complete the project on budget, then make two or three small but critical changes that nudge the budget up a bit. Then we’ll show the customer both products. When they see the impact, there’s a good chance they’ll agree it’s money well spent. And the next time they bring us a project, we’ll encourage them to bump up the budget even more.
The same approach can be used on a bigger scale, especially when it comes to looking at your annual budget or the funds available for new hires. In most cases, asking for five percent more won’t raise too many eyebrows, but if you do it year after year, it adds up.
Your design budget probably represents a small fraction of the money your organization spends. So rather than trying to increase your tiny slice of the pie, take a look at the other slices. After all, most in-house creatives spend the majority of their time serving other departments. For instance, when I wanted to revamp NPCA’s tired annual report seven years ago, I asked the head of our development team if he would kick in $10,000. He agreed, recognizing $10,000 was a small price to pay for a polished marketing piece that would help him meet his $10 million fundraising goal. Even better, the money was permanently added to my budget the next year.
Making sure you spend every budgeted dime on the last day of the year is no easy task. Most careful managers end up with a little—or a lot—left over on day 365 and then frantically attempt to spend it all, often in ways that wouldn’t be permitted in the first quarter (it’s the “use it or lose it” mentality). Instead, two months before the end of the fiscal year, find out if any of your colleagues are in the same boat and then propose some long-overdue projects that meet an important need for your organization.
My chief responsibility is the production of National Parks magazine, which costs about $600,000 to print and mail each year—a huge sum. When my in-house team launched an internal PR campaign to encourage our coworkers to take advantage of the in-house team’s expertise, we printed 100 branded T-shirts at a cost of roughly $500, and I coded the expense to the magazine, where it became a rounding error. Some might find this tactic a little underhanded, but as long as the expense is genuinely advancing your mission and you don’t do it too often, I say it’s fair game.
I’ve been hoping to hire one more graphic designer for my department for several years now, so each year, I ask our accounting department to show me what other departments have spent on freelance graphic design. Once that total tops $65K—and it will within a year or two—I’ll show our management team that we could hire another designer at a salary that would save us thousands of dollars, allow our team to complete a lot more work and ensure we always have an expert in-house.
Another way to capitalize on the end of a fiscal year is to split a substantial cost between two years. A few years ago, National Parks magazine was in desperate need of a redesign, but it had a big price tag. So we asked our freelance design firm if we could pay for half in one fiscal year and half in the next. They agreed, issued two invoices, and the impact didn’t raise an eyebrow.
Do you have other ideas about how to increase your in-house team’s resources? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Scott Kirkwood began his publishing career in Troy, Michigan, editing coupon books (yes, coupon books) but ever since moving to Washington, DC, in 1994 he’s been writing and editing for nonprofit organizations including the Humane Society of the United States and the Child Welfare League of America. For the last eight years he’s worked at the National Parks Conservation Association, where he oversees the group’s magazine and other publications. And even though it’s impossible to pick a favorite national park, he knows you’ll insist on asking, so he’ll reluctantly say Zion National Park in Utah.
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