4 tips for nonprofits selecting a creative agency

We award an annual McGuffin Grant, which provides $30,000 in creative services to a worthy 501(c)(3) working to help people or the planet. Learn more.

The grant was designed to pair a selected nonprofit with a hand-picked team of our in-house talent —  graphic designers, copywriters and account managers. Over the course of several months, our team works with the recipient to craft objectives and materials for a campaign to help the group raise funds, grow awareness and build on its mission.

Looking back on several years of successful grant projects, as well as McGuffin’s work for other nonprofit clients over a decade, here’s a little perspective on ways nonprofits can work with their agency partners to get better results and build mutually beneficial relationships.

1. Find the right match

When you’re considering a creative agency, look for the one you feel most comfortable with, not just the one with the most bells and whistles (though they could be one and the same). A chic, modern office is impressive, but a winning agency personality is even more important. You and your agency are going to have to work closely as a team, so qualities like rapport, approachability and comfort are essential to the quality of the product you’ll receive.

2. Get to know each other

When you first meet with your agency, they’ll want to know who you are today and who you want to be. They’ll ask not just what you do and how you work but what truly makes you special, even unique. Give concrete examples or case studies that will bring your work to life. At the same time, ask your agency as many questions as you can think of about how they work and how they can work best for you. What’s their creative development process, from kick-off to completion? Who will be your primary and secondary contacts? What sorts of timelines can you expect? And what are the potential bumps in the road you can work together to avoid?

3. Build the relationship

A timely and accurate flow of communication between you and your agency is essential to the success of any project, whether it’s a logo redesign or a major fundraising marketing campaign. Expect your agency to keep you apprised of schedules and timelines. And be prepared to answer questions during the creative development process and do what you can on your end to expedite your feedback and approvals. If you have concerns or comments on a particular strategy or piece of work, offer them up but leave it to your agency to solve the problem. The goal in all this is to keep the ball rolling and avoid inertia. It’s no secret that creative talent is easily distracted. Good communication ensures that everyone on the project – both you and your agency — remain engaged and excited.

4. Keep it just the two of you

This is big: Anyone with a vote in the direction, the look or the content of your agency’s work should be engaged in the process from the start. Many a bold, bright idea has fallen prey to an executive director or a board member who was presented with a concept out of context and divorced from strategic intent. Relevant stakeholders should know what you know. And by all means, avoid the temptation of getting feedback from people with absolutely no skin in the game. There’s the old saying: If you ask someone for an opinion they will give you one.

Above all, have fun. Your agency wants you to be delighted with the final product, and they’re rooting for you to succeed wildly. The right agency relationship — one that’s built on a strong foundation of trust and communication from the start — can make that happen.