When to keep creative work in-house—and what your team should look like
You’re looking at your annual budgets and your line item for outsourced creative services (design, copywriting, web work, etc.) is similar to someone’s annual salary. Should you hire someone full time? What if you already have invested in an in-house creative team? Do those folks have the right skillsets and expectations for the job?
To answer these questions, it’s useful to have an understanding of what’s essential in an in-house creative team. In-house creative jobs should be all about breadth, consistency, and production.
Your in-house designer should be able to whip up a mean Instagram post, gala invite, and website update with equal ease—oh, and take compelling photos on their lunch break, too. Your in-house writer should be comfortable writing both metadata and naming a new program. Like all jobs at nonprofits, your in-house people should be able to wear many creative hats.
Your in-house creative people shouldn’t reinvent the wheel each time they develop a solution. Shifting the look and feel of your organization from event to event or campaign to campaign will confuse your audience and drain your brand recognition. Instead, create an expectation—and an appetite—for continuity and consistency in the folks that work on your team. An in-house design or writing role is more likely to be a good fit for someone who cares about brand consistency and creating systems—not in developing new solutions. Hire the person that’s excited about creating templates and messaging guides, not the person that wants to re-name programs or create new logos.
Seek out a proven track record of getting the job done—and fast. Someone who knows how to maintain a consistent voice and whether your organization rejects or embraces the Oxford comma. Someone who knows how to set up files for printing and how to save images at the right resolution for quick load times online. These more tactical and technical production skills will help you produce more, faster, and at lower expense.
When should you look beyond your own team and keep investing in that line item for freelancers and specialists? Typically for projects that are really big—beyond the day-to-day work you usually do—or for projects with a long shelf-life. Projects that require deep strategic and creative innovation like branding, campaigns, or a major high-publicity event, are more likely to benefit from working with people who’ve done that specialized work repeatedly, which few in-house people have. In those instances, it’s wise to invest in outside creative talent to craft something special that stays true to your organization’s vision and mission.