Canva for nonprofits: How to make graphics as a non-designer

Canva is an online graphic design tool that lets you easily design and create graphics for a variety of different platforms and uses. It’s fairly easy to use and comes pre-loaded with over a million fonts, templates, graphics and photographs. If you have very little to no experience with graphic design, Canva makes it easy to create stunning images with their drag and drop format and customizable templates.


Canva’s free plan allows you access most of its features, like over 8,000 templates and the ability to upload your own images. The “Canva for Work” paid plan grants access to more features, like 300,000 free photos, illustrations, and templates,as well as the ability to upload custom fonts and color palettes for your brand. The best part about Canva for Work: it is free for eligible nonprofits! All you have to do is apply and wait for approval (approval not guaranteed).


Once you set-up your free account or get approved for a free Canva for Work account, you’ll need to learn how to use it—we’re here to help. Read on for everything you need to know to use Canva for your nonprofit, including design tips and a free set of templates to make creating graphics super simple!

Getting Started

When you log into your Canva account you’ll be met with various design options. You can choose to:

  • Create a design with custom dimensions. This is great if you have very specific image requirements to work with.
  • Use a premade, recommended template. Helpful if you need design inspiration.
  • Search for a specific type of template like and “Instagram post” or “Facebook cover.” Hitting “Create a Design” will trigger a drop down menu from the search bar with various template options.
  • Browse through thousands of template by clicking “Find templates”

Uploading Your Brand Kit

One of the coolest features of a Canva Pro account is that you have the ability to upload your organization’s brand assets. If you have custom or particular fonts, colors, or logos for your organization, you can upload all of your assets into Canva, allowing you to easily create custom branded images. This helps makes templatizing your organization’s visual identity super simple, making sure your assets are ready to be used on any design created by any member of your team. You can learn more about how to upload your brand kit here.

Creating Custom, Branded Templates

While Canva does offer thousands of templates, you’ll find that many may not be appropriate for what you want to accomplish. Maybe you’re sharing stats from a recent campaign, or maybe you want to share research information. Design is going to be very important in making sure your message is clear and visually appealing.


When you’re creating the format of your image, be sure to keep the following in mind:


Utilize the element of whitespace

Whitespace acts as a separator between elements in a composition.  In other words “negative space.” Most designers believe it is the fundamental building block of good design. Using whitespace creates visual hierarchy and highlights calls to action, guiding the viewer’s eye from the most important piece of information to secondary information.


Speaking of hierarchy…

Hierarchy helps signal the importance of each element. At the top of a hierarchical scale, we have the most important things, with the less important things following. Be sure to keep hierarchy in mind when deciding the size and placement of each element.


Remember the rule of thirds and the rule of odds

The rule of thirds states that if you take an image and divide it into three equally sized horizontal sections and three equally sized vertical sections, the resulting grid provides a “roadmap” that helps you choose where to place key design elements. The rule of odds suggests that images with an odd number of “subjects” or focal points is more visually interesting that images with an even number of subjects.

Use leading lines and other shapes. Don’t be afraid to layer!

Leading lines help draw the eye to certain focal points as the viewer journey’s through the image. Using different shapes can help draw attention to key elements of the image. They can also come in handy as a buffer between a busy background image and text. Try playing around with opacity to tie elements of the image together.


Play around with scale.

Scale is the deliberate sizing of individual elements. Scale can help us make sense of designs and images. You can size your elements to be dramatically large or small, signaling which parts of your design are important and which are not.


Consistency is key!

Once you find a design template you like, keep using it! You can be flexible with type and colors, but remaining consistent with templates will make your brand look more cohesive and build brand awareness.



Color is one of the most important aspects of any design. Color creates specific moods, channels emotions, and elicits certain connotations. In short, color can make or break your design. Choosing the right colors can help improve your designs. Use the color wheel as a tool for combining colors. This will not only lift your design visually but helps you clearly communicate your ideas.

There are three main types of color combinations:

  • A complementary color scheme is made up of colors that sit opposite each other on the color wheel. These schemes provide balance and help avoid harsh contrast that can create eyestrain for the viewer.
  • A monochromatic color scheme uses variations of one color. It’s hard to go wrong with colors from the same family that are guaranteed to match.
  • An analogous color scheme is made up of a group of colors close to each other on the color wheel. These schemes work help provide a sense of consistency and uniformity within your design.


You can use color to create a mood that may be hard to describe with words. Play with colors to help support the message of your design. Not everyone thinks about or experiences color in the same way. The meaning and symbolism we associate with different colors is influenced a great deal by the cultural and societal groups we identify with.

Too much of anything is never a good thing. A color scheme that has too many colors can often make your designs look too busy. On the other hand, having too few colors can make your design look boring. Limit your color palette to 1-3 primary colors and an additional 1-3 secondary colors that contrast and complement each other. is a great, free online tool to help you generate cohesive color schemes.

Text & Typography

Like color, typography is another key aspect of design. When working with text and fonts, keep these best practices in mind:


Choose complementary fonts.

Many fonts have distinct moods or personalities. You want to make sure the moods of your font choices match the purpose of your design. is another free tool that can help you easily find fonts that pair well with each other. Don’t be afraid to mix font styles, too! Font weights create contrast and hierarchy. Mix serif and sans serif fonts, they tent to pair well together. The differences help create distinct roles for each font, allowing them to stand out as individual pieces of information.


Limit the number of fonts you’re using. Limit the amount of text on an image.

Limit the number of typefaces you’re using to 1-2 max. Using too many fonts can make your image too busy and make your message unclear. If creating graphics for social media, keep text on images to 2-3 lines at most. This makes it easy for the viewer to quickly absorb key points.


Be mindful of spacing.

Utilize whitespace and be sure to include space between letters to give the text room. Bringing letters closer together creates a condensed effect.

While In Canva….

You can bring all of the elements we discussed to life while making your images in Canva. If you’ve found a template you’d like to work with, you can find it along with other graphic elements on the left side of the screen. You can choose from free or paid graphics, icons, shapes, and backgrounds. To edit individual elements, just click on the element and you’ll be able to change the color, the opacity, and the size. You can also create multiple image files in one sitting by clicking the Page option and adding more pages.

Start designing!

Now that you have the beginner’s guide to designing great images in Canva, you’re ready to set up your account and start designing. If you want a little more hands help, Canva offers awesome free courses that can guide you through building stunning graphics.