Right on the Money: Let Volunteer Designers Manage Your Extreme Makeover

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Photograph of a modern-looking room with pretty green walls.

Your space feels cramped. The sofa cushions are coming apart at the seams. The bare white walls are uninspiring. You want to give young people a sense of optimism and empowerment, but your surroundings aren’t conveying the message. Fortunately, there are architects and designers around the country who are willing to help for little or no cost.

Through initiatives like The 1% and Designs 4 Dignity, designers will work with you to use space, furnishings, color, materials, and light to transform environments and support your agency’s mission in the process. “We see the building as a tool to service the program,” says Mark Jolicoeur, who oversees the pro bono initiative at Perkins+Will, one of the largest architecture and design firms in the country.

Jolicoeur had some advice for youth-serving organizations in need of design help:

  • Visit the 1% program of Public Architecture, which connects nonprofit organizations in need of design assistance with architecture and design firms willing to donate 1% of their time on a pro bono basis. Hundreds of firms participate, and when you register on the site, you can find and connect with ones in your area.
     
  • Network. If any member of your board knows a design professional, reach out. You may find someone who is passionate about your mission and would be happy to lend a hand.
     
  • Be prepared to show that your organization is truly in need, that it’s well-managed, and has a demonstrated track record. This lets designers know the investment of their time is going into something that will thrive.
     
  • When you talk to designers, explain your organization’s values, goals, and the kinds of activities that take place day-to-day at your site. Describe your clients, your community, and what you want your space to do. Designers can help you figure out how best to use existing resources, where improvements are needed, and even where to get funding or materials for the work, if necessary.
     
  • Bring youth into the process. It helps the designers to meet the young people who will be using the space, and young people will feel a greater sense of ownership of the space if they have a say in creating it. It also gives young people a window into possible career options.
     
  • As a way of saying thanks, talk to the designer about promoting the firm that did the work. Share with your local media how the space has affected the young people and staff who use it and how the improvement will help the community. Reach out to your donors and supporters to tell them about the partnership and what it has accomplished.
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