How to survive working in church communications without an in-house team

I love coming alongside churches to improve their brand aesthetic, create attractive marketing materials, and design updated, on-trend websites. It’s a passion of mine to see churches stay relevant and thrive in today’s visually-focused world.

But budget constraints are a very real thing in the non-profit industry. So is the desire to spend tithe dollars with care and wise decision making. Often these things lead church communications directors to feel the need to "do it all" and "go it alone." But chances are you’re not equipped to do all the videos, all the graphics, all the copywriting, all the marketing plans, and all the project managing yourself. No one is! And doing it alone only leads to burnout.

Having an in-house creative team is a rare blessing for churches. So at some point, you’re probably going to want to hire work out.

Church Communications In-House Team Hiring Tips

Here are some best practice tips for how to (1) find, (2) hire, and (3) work with a freelance graphic designer. And many of these tips apply to other creative fields (such as videography) as well.

Meet the guest contributors!

I partnered with a couple awesome people to provide unique insight for this post:

Jan Lynn

Communications Curator with nearly 20 years in church communications

Nathan Ansell

Creative Director at Family Church

1. How to find graphic designers to work with

Danica: Ask for recommendations from people in your circle or even in community Facebook groups. If someone is willing to vouch for a designer, chances are they enjoyed working with them and liked the outcome.

Jan: A great way to find and encourage talent within your church family is to connect with your college pastor to see if he or she knows of someone with a talent for graphic or web design. College level is ideal because students are already assembling portfolios and designing for requirements and deadlines.

Nathan: I follow a ton of graphic designers, hand lettering artists, photographers, interior designers, wood workers, sign makers, design studios and teams so that I can be inspired or get connected at any time. Having all this content constantly in my feed reminds me of who I can go to when I’m looking for something specific.

2. Tips on hiring a graphic designer

Danica: I dove deeper into this topic in a previous post: Questions to ask before hiring a graphic designer. Something I didn’t touch on that pertains specifically to non-profits is experiencing sticker shock when you get a price quote. Understand that quality designers don’t come cheap. However, there’s always room for negotiation. Ask them if they can work within your budget. It never hurts to ask! Just know that the normal rule of thumb is: Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick two.

Jan: Even if you find a talented designer, don’t make your first project together a new church logo or a complete redesign of your weekly bulletin. Find a more flexible ministry opportunity like an invitation to the men’s breakfast or women’s Bible study. It’s better to first work through a less mission critical project to learn how the designer interprets and responds to feedback, how their design works with your church branding, and whether they meet agreed-upon requirements and deadlines.

Nathan: Make sure you LOVE their portfolio and style before you contact them. Outsourcing should bring relief, not pressure. Trying to mold an artists’s style to yours, in my experience, creates more work. I try to work with designers whose work already fits the look and feel I’m going for. This way, I can trust them and allow more freedom. On larger projects, chemistry is important. If the designer comes prepared, asks good questions and takes notes to get to know what you’re after, that’s a good sign!

3. How to work with a graphic designer

Danica: Especially if the designer charges hourly, make sure you have all the info they’ll need for the project up front before the design work gets started. Finalize your copy before the designer starts the project. Having content up front allows it to influence the design and ensures you aren’t having to pay to re-work the design with every content change. 

Jan: When working with a volunteer or student designers, there are two rules: (1) Don’t lower your standards, and (2) Do have a wider margin of grace. This means you don’t have to accept work that clearly doesn’t fit with or improve your church’s style, and you may need to continue with further coaching or have the “not the right fit” conversation. At the same time, don’t be rigid about the process – be open to hew ideas and different approaches, even if it’s not what you’d originally envisioned. It can be interesting and valuable to see your church through the eyes of a creative college student.

Are you in church communications? Let me know what you're struggling with specifically when it comes to finding, hiring, and working with freelancers. If you have any other tips, please share them in the comments below!