In a world where people have attention spans of eight seconds, nonprofit communicators can use vibrant images to help their stories and messages come to life. A great image can convey an entire narrative that complements key elements of the story you’re telling in words. Readers are drawn to photos and graphics, resulting in more attention and interaction for the content you’re sharing. On Facebook, posts with photos attract 87% of interactions, well ahead of any other type of content sharing.

The challenge many of us face is coming up with great visual elements to post on a regular basis, in a way that fits within limited budgets. We want to create awesome, engaging graphics, so what can we do?

The good news is that we are nonprofit communicators in the digital age where incredible online tools are offered for free or very minimal cost. Add in the fact that they’re user friendly and you can create customized, unique graphics in minutes and it all adds up to a big win. Even if you think you don’t have design talents, the templates and quick & easy design tutorials will get you going in no time flat. Perfect for nonprofit marcom pros who don’t have access to graphic designers, or just need to whip up a quick graphic on the fly, here’s an overview of my current favourite graphic creation tools.

Graphic creation tools for design rookies


Canva logoCanva describes itself as “amazingly simple graphic design” and I couldn’t agree more. After registering for a free online account, you can quickly access hundreds of design templates, layouts, photos and icons and use them to create an image that meets your specific needs. In late November the site added a public profile element so users can (if they want to) share their designs and discover the great work of others.

You start by picking a standard size template to work from (ie: Twitter cover), or by entering custom dimensions for your project. There are millions of backgrounds, photos, components and fonts to use in your designs. Pricing is very accessible – there are tons of options that are free and all the others cost $1 to use. You’re also able to upload your own images (photos, logos, graphic devices) to use in your designs, at no cost. I’ve uploaded my organization’s most-used elements into my personal upload area so that they are easy to access any time I want to pop them into a design.

With Canva’s super easy click, drag and drop functionality, you can have great looking images created and saved as an image or PDF within minutes. The ability to layer elements is one of the highlights of the platform. For those of us who need tips on how to compose dynamic designs, Canva provides well explained design tips and tutorials.

Image 1

If you need to edit an image by adding a filter or transparency, cropping or flipping, you can do that. (see image 1)

Image 2

If you need to add text to your design, change the font by increasing or decreasing the size, changing the colour (including an option for inserting a specific colour code), you can do that too. (see image 2) Need multiple versions of the same graphic, with slight variations in each? No problem with the duplicate page feature.

After all this awesomeness from the folks at Canva, I’ve saved the best for last. If you ever have a question and can’t figure it out, reach out to them via Twitter or direct request. I’ve done this several times, and despite me being in Canada and them being in Australia, they responded within minutes with helpful, friendly responses that got my designs back on track.


PiktochartDo you have lots of numbers and facts you want to share, but you don’t have an engaging way of presenting them? Piktochart is an easy-to-use online tool that the creators describe as “an easy infographic design app that requires very little effort to produce beautiful, high quality graphics”. Basic accounts are free to set up, and for full features you can sign up for a package, with special pricing for nonprofits.

Using this tool, I was able to create a well-designed infographic in a very short time frame thanks to a choice of free layout templates. This made it easy to share important info with audiences across a variety of platforms.

Piktochart features

To get started, you can pick a template and dive right in. Select a design and play with the drag and drop design features. If you’re working with a lot of numbers, you can conveniently import data from your Excel files or Google spreadsheets so they can be represented in graph or chart formats.

Depending on your publication needs (thumbnail, for web, or for print), you can save your work in a variety of formats (JPEG, PNG and PDF) and sizes. And once complete, you can share your infographic directly from the site by posting to you social media account(s), linking, embedding or emailing.

If you need support, there are a variety of topics covered in their FAQs and if you can’t find what you need there, contact them or connect via Twitter.

Get creative!

Now it’s your turn – set up your own accounts and get creative. Great looking visuals tell a story all their own and draw people to the info you want to share. Enjoy your newfound freedom to create designs you need, when you need them!

Angela de Burger

Angela de Burger

Manager, Communications at YMCA Canada
Angela de Burger is the Manager, Communications at YMCA Canada, a charity dedicated to improving the health and well-being of Canadians in body, mind and spirit. She is passionately curious about the way individuals and organizations express themselves.