A letter to the community

Wednesday June 17, 2020

When I started Designers Available (D/A) in 2016, I didn’t see opportunities for graphic designers to directly connect with social justice work. While organizers and designers like Antionette Carroll and Creative Reaction Lab led conversations around community-engaged design from a racial justice lens and Dori Tunstall was writing about decolonizing design, the mainstream “social impact design“ and “graphic design for good” conversations were diffuse and continue to be today. Our professional organizations failed us in many ways but especially to connect those of us interested in learning what it looks like for designers to do the work. Black Lives Matter was cast as fringe and our idea of what designers could do for the cause was limited to protest posters. The differences between what this moment feels like (to me) and what the post-election moment from which D/A was born are vast. The need for the Black Lives Matter movement returns again and again as we are confronted with the murders of Black people at the hands of white supremacists. For white and white-adjacent people who might sat out the last few waves of what simply felt like bad news for other people, the urgency to speak and act against the violence wrought upon Black people has caught up to the speed of privileged lives. Many people have noted that this moment feels different in so many ways. We are called upon, once again, to dig deeper and we understand better than ever what is at stake. We are obligated to search for and address the patterns and practices of white supremacy in ourselves, our fields, and our communities directly.

Four years after starting this network, through working to define what this initiative could be, I can see with a certain clarity that we need Designers Available less than ever before. I’ve staked my professional and creative life on the belief that design is political and it can make material change in the world. I also believe that we each have gifts and perhaps, it is our purpose in life to align those gifts with opportunities to seek justice, create knowledge, and forge bonds. But I have doubts that what we need most now is graphic designers doing graphic design. I think we need more designers who will pick up the phone and make calls. More designers with means who are willing to give cash to the point of discomfort. More designers who are willing to give up jobs and opportunities. More designers having difficult and critical conversations with loved ones and colleagues. More designers using their privilege directly and strategically. More designers who are not willing to let the names of Ahmaud, Breonna, Tony, or George (or Trayvon, Eric, Sandra, Michael, Rekia……) disappear from our hearts and minds.

In my attempts to lead and shape D/A over the last few years, I’ve learned some things. I can and have summarized some ideas about how you might approach pro bono projects in a shareable resource. But I think the best insight I could share, what I wish I understood in 2016, is this: The only good and worthy thing is to try to connect with one person and to make meaning together. You can’t do this work alone and it is not worthwhile to try. We all have to give something up and it’s more than a little free time in the evenings and after work. Slowness. Take time to learn from real people and real experiences. Grace, patience, vision, and clarity.

So, this is not a message letting you know that you’ll be receiving an influx of opportunities to contribute your skills to support social justice work right now. I know it’s likely been disappointing and unsatisfying for many people to not have been connected with an opportunity to work on a project through this network. Instead. I’d like to encourage myself and this community to take a step back from responding as a designer right now and to instead step more fully into just being a person, being someone’s child, being a colleague, being a friend, being a partner, being a witness, being someone who needs love and care and can give love and care. I’d even warn against seeking pro bono work right now. The work of relationship building that brings project opportunities to your inbox is hard and slow work, and while I believe it is worthwhile, the moment demands urgency and action. To put it simply, one of the reasons we partner with nonprofits on design collaborations is to try to facilitate greater visibility and reach for organizations to increase their donations, supporting their work and making sure it can continue to reach people and effect change. My recommendation is to cut to the chase and give organizations money now and tomorrow and the next day. Encourage your friends and employers give. I recognize that, particularly as we face varying levels of precarity, giving money might not be an option for all of us. So for those of us with means and privilege have to find our own way to give and give up — resources, time, and power.Commit to the deep and lifelong learning about the liberatory visions and work of social justice leaders, activists, and thinkers outside of the flawed non-profit industrial complex. Plant the seeds of relationship building with organizations now. Learn more about what issues and organizations you're most motivated by in in your neighborhoods or in your hometowns. Sign up for their newsletters. Show up at their (for now, virtual) events. Find a different way to volunteer. Talk to your friends about their missions. Again, give as much money as you can and do it over time.

Designers Available is not actively seeking new project opportunities to connect you. I’ve updated the site to notify visitors that Designers Available is accepting project requests specifically from Black-led organizations and Black-owned small businesses (That’s something new for us! We generally only support not-for-profit work), so that we might be responsive if called upon. However, the significant work of outreach and networking to solicit applications is on hold. The world looks very different from the way it did when I started Designers Available. I saw a need and I’ve worked hard to fill it, continually rebuilding and reimagining this initiative. That need is constantly shifting — in the last few weeks, I’ve seen so many individual and organized efforts to offer pro bono design support for the movement for Black lives, which is both heartening and complicated. Even more encouraging and indicative of the difference between “now” and “then” is the richness and depth of resources available to us about the role of the designer in white supremacy, how to show up in our identities, and take direct action now. I’m so eager to hear from you about what you think Designers Available can be now and in the long term, what you’re learning and thinking about, what tactics you are bringing to the movement, and how designers can show up as people right now. I hope you’ll get in touch. It’s important to me to continue building based on a vision for how I want the world to be, not what it already is. I hope that you can join me in imagining a better world and continuing to reach beyond the narrow scope of our own imaginations, so confined by white supremacy, to liberation for each and every one of us.

Be well,

PS. I want to follow my own lead here and be direct. Please reach out to me with any feedback you have on how you’d like to see Designers Available mobilize now and later, what you can contribute to D/A, and any resources you’ve seen that might be relevant to the community. Contact me on instagram, via email, or through this form I’ve set up this form for comments.

Designers Available: Pro Bono Design Support for Nonprofits

Pro bono design support for nonprofits

Submit a proposal for an in-depth, facilitated design collaboration in 2019, at no cost to you.

Designers Available (D/A) connects designers with projects in service of non-profits and community organizations actively facilitating social change through direct service, arts and culture, and grassroots politics and activism. Designers Available was founded by Joelle Riffle, an independent designer, artist, and administrator in November 2016. Joelle works full-time at as a communications and brand manager at a youth writing non-profit and runs an online visual journal called aslittlefear.co. The Designers Available network is made up of over 300 creatives around the world. Contact info (at) designersavailable.com for more information.

Please read the following FAQ to determine if your project is a good fit for Designers Available.

Apply here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Design

A strategic communications plan supported by powerful visual design can help organizations level up in their ability to reach their audiences of supporters and those they help to serve.

Does my organization qualify for Designers Available support?

To receive support from Designers Available, you must meet the following qualifications.

  • Small non-profit and grassroots organizations.
  • Located anywhere in the United States.
  • Don’t have to be a 501(C)3 or otherwise incorporated.
  • Can’t be a for-profit business like a shop or similar business where you sell goods or services.
  • Can’t have a communications or design staff.
  • Can’t be a “design” business in any discipline.
  • Ideally, you have never worked with a designer before or only on one or two projects.

What can Designers Available do for my organization?

Our designers can partner with you to create the following and more:

  • brand identity including logos and recommended typography, branded elements, and color and a plan for how to implement it
  • Print and digital materials to drive a fundraising campaign
  • Event collateral like invitations, printed programs, and presentations
  • A robust and manageable strategy for you organization’s communications
  • A website to centralize your organization's resources

Who manages projects?

Each Designers Available project is supported by a project manager. The role of the project manager is to facilitate work between community partners (non profits ) and the designers, making the collaboration smooth and healthy. They establish a timeline, check in on deadlines, set up phone calls/meetings and facilitate feedback and conversations which allows the community partners to continue getting the work of their organization done frees up time and effort for the designer to focus on doing design work, making revisions, and being able to sustain pro bono work along with their regular jobs and practices.

What is it like to work with a designer.

  • Designers Available offers pro-bono work. Please keep in mind that for paid design work, hourly rates for a designer could range anywhere from $30 to $150. This depends on the kind of work and the individual and the project.
  • Even very small projects can take a few weeks to complete. We ask that you not apply designers with a project that needs to be completed in one week. Ideally, no fewer than 6 weeks should be allotted to complete a project. Rushing a project can result in design work that you are unhappy with, which isn’t a good use of your time or the designers time.
  • Many of our designers have full-time jobs or freelance practices balancing many clients and projects. Please keep this in mind when communicating around expectations, especially time and responsiveness via email and phone.
  • We expect that partners and designers will collaborate to bring the best of all expertise to the work. Most designers are not experts in the work of your organization and we look to you to lead the conversation. We hope that partners will trust the creative process and keep an open mind in the execution of design projects.
  • To partner with D/A and our network, it will be required to decide on and document the terms of a project with a work agreement. We will walk you through this process.
  • Having a timeline from the start of a project helps everyone to stay on the same page around deadlines.

What does a design process look like.

Below is a sample outline of a project like branding or web design.

  • Designer presents a few rough draft options. This option will mostly focus on concept rather than specifics of form and color.
  • You will choose one option to move forward with and present feedback on what you’d like to see, what there should be more of, what there should be less of.
  • Designer will revise the chosen draft option and incorporate your feedback. The draft will become more specific, often incorporating color. This will be much closer to what the final version will look like.
  • You will offer feedback on specifics about this option. Consider this feedback to be the last moment to make big changes to the final design to stay on track. What you see next will be close to the final so bring up any concerns you have. Be sure to share this with any stakeholders if you haven’t already.
  • Designer will revise the design and prepare a final design for your approval. This will be the final design before it is finalized.
  • You will approve the final design or request an extension of the project, which will involve adding time to the project and if this was a paid project, would involve paying additional fees. Any feedback at this point should be highly specific.
  • Once the design is approved, the designer will produce the final design and present you with the assets.

What happens after a design project.

  • The designer will prepare the final files as well as help you understand anything you need to know to use the design work, such as a brand guideline, website log-in, or tutorial on making edits to your site.
  • After this period has finished, you will be responsible for managing your design going forward. You will pay for hosting and domain names, hire designers and other production help, send to printers, etc.
  • We’d love to know how the process went for you - What can D/A know about how to improve the experience for partners going forward. Let’s talk on the phone or meet in person for an exit interview.

Why pro bono?

We hope that collaborating with a designer on a pro bono basis will  help you understand what it’s like to work with a designer. We believe that design is a valuable language that everyone should have access to. We offer pro bono services as an introduction to what design has to offer. We hope that in the future, you can raise funds or allocate part of your operating budget to hire design support, or even learn a little more about making your own design work for your organization. If you are interested in hiring a freelance designer, we are happy to connect you with someone in our network who can support you with paid work. We also think it’s important that creative work around social justice should be collaborations between those most affected by the issues in question. Learn more about how we raised funds to support a small stipend for this years projects.

What happens if I'm accepted?

  • You will be contacted if your application to receive pro bono support is accepted.
  • We will work with you to draft a project proposal which will be shared with our network of more than 250 designers.
  • We will get in touch to share the portfolios and info of designers who are interested and available in collaborating. You will choose the designer you want to work with.
  • A kick-off call or meeting will be facilitated by a volunteer project manager to introduce all parties and draft a timeline and work agreement.
  • A project manager will help you mediate the project and stay within the timeline and project scope.
  • Projects will run from February-April, April-June, July-September, and September-November.

What if I have a small scale project I need support on?

If you have a smaller project that you’d like to share with our network, please fill out this form. Your proposal will be included as a listing that will be available to our members who will contact you with their interest to collaborate. Please note that it can take about two weeks to kick-off a project and at least three weeks to complete, no matter the scale. While our major projects are facilitated by a project manager who helps set up a timeline, define a work agreement, and keep a project within scope, projects shared in our listing are self-supported.

Apply for a project.

Learn more about what a Designers Available project is like and if you qualify for support.

Donate one time.

We are aiming to compensate designers equitably for their time.

Sign up for the newsletter.

Designers Available will continue to support ad-hoc pro bono design projects, shared with the network via monthly newsletter and available to any designer.

Designers Available: A New Model for Pro Bono Design

Designers Available: A New Model for Pro Bono Design

Hello, Designers Available community!
Happy spring! I’m writing to share with you some exciting updates on how Designers Available is growing and aiming to provide a new model for design and social justice.

In 2019, Designers Available will move to a member-supported model that would allow for designers from underrepresented backgrounds working on projects with non-profits to get paid for their work at no cost to the organization. In addition to a regular offering of pro-bono projects open to the whole community, we will implement quarterly project cycles, accepting applications from both organizations and designers, in which we’ll facilitate 2-3 larger projects per cycle and offer a stipend to designers.

Let’s reframe the Designers Available network (that’s you!) as a cooperative, a community which is experimenting with a radical idea of the relationship between design and social justice, one which centers those most affected by social justice issues and believes in redistribution of resources and access.

I aim to pay designers from underrepresented backgrounds to do design work to support issues that are close to them with non-profits and grassroots organizations. In addition to supporting non-profits and grassroots organization, a mission of this work is to uplift designers of color, those from low-income and working-class backgrounds, immigrants and those with precarious immigration statuses in the US, queer, trans and gender non-conforming designers, and disabled designers. I believe that those who are most affected by the social justice issues that organizations support are uniquely positioned to address these issues.

If every member of our community was able to contribute $1.84 every month, we’d meet our fundraising goal of $2400 and be able to support up to 12 projects in 2019. For designers with access and privilege, this is an opportunity to address issues of inequity and underrepresentation of designers from underrepresented backgrounds, as well as consider the who, how, and why of how social impact design projects are facilitated in an innovative way. Designers Available will continue to support ad-hoc pro bono design projects, shared with the network via monthly newsletter and available to any designer.

I am really excited about these shifts and believe they are moving Designers Available in a direction that will sustain this work and serve as a model for responsible relationships between the design community and those engaged in social justice work. I am eager to hear what you think and I’m so grateful to be able to share this work with you all.

Be well,
Joelle | @okayjoelle | info@designersavailable.com


Set up a monthly donation.

Your donation goes directly to supporting designers from underrepresented backgrounds to collaborate with non-profits at no cost to the organization.

Donate one time.

Anything you can contribute is helpful and appreciated. We are aiming to compensate designers equitably for their time.

Sign up for the newsletter.

Designers Available will continue to support ad-hoc pro bono design projects, shared with the network via monthly newsletter and available to any designer.


It’s been a while since I’ve reached out so I wanted to send this quick reminder on what is Designers Available and who is Joelle?!

Designers Available was founded by me, Joelle Riffle, in November 2016 as a platform through which designers committed to dedicated their creative and strategic skills in support of organizations doing direct advocacy and activism work. Over the past nineteen months, my favorite part of this work has been building community and getting to know people invested in this work, and growing and learning and expanding the limitations of what this thing can be. We’ve completed (at least) four major projects, which you can see on the website at designersavailable.com.

I’m Joelle, the founder and lead of D/A. I field requests for design support from organizations, match designers with organizations, oversee projects through completion, manage the community (that’s you all!), and generally organize the operations and resources for this whole thing. D/A is a big volunteer project for me that I do on nights and weekends in addition to my full time role a youth writing non-profit in Boston, MA and my independent design practice. You can @ me anytime at @okayjoelle on twitter or instagram.