Never underestimate the power of a Word document

There are few tedious things in life that I could do for hours on end in a complete state of joy. Algebra problems are one (really, who doesn’t love algebra?). Caulking bathtubs is another. But making Word documents look good, well, almost makes me shed happy tears.

I find nonprofit people often fall into one of three Word categories:

  1. The Designer: These individuals use InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, or other fancy, somewhat expensive software programs that take a bit of learning. They are smart people, and are good at making things look pretty. These people sometimes resist Word because they see limitations in what the finished product can look like. They are surprised when I can make text boxes and make images line up all the way to the edge of the page.
  2. The Try Hard: These individuals use Word or maybe Publisher to get their message across in brochures, posters, notices, and resources, but don’t consider how the medium is impacting how that message gets across. They uses Times New Roman and Arial font and are a fan of centering their paragraphs. They emphasize text by CAPITALIZING, italicizing, bolding and underlining, ALL AT ONE TIME.  They try really hard to make things look pretty, but don’t always succeed.
  3. The Cause: These individuals focus their time on important work like serving clients, moving the cause forward, raising money. The know it would be nice if their documents all looked consistent and were easy to use, but really don’t have the time to make work like this a priority. They don’t try hard to make things pretty, they are just relying on the words to get their message across.

But here are the problems. Relying on The Designer means having to rely on someone else to do something for you, however small, that you wish you could do yourself. This is fine when you are a large organization with graphic designers in house, but this isn’t the case for most small and medium nonprofits. Being The Try Hard means the message you are trying to get across can get lost in the medium you are using. Being The Cause means that this sort of stuff gets pushed aside.

What Word can do for you.

It is possible to make a pretty damn good design in Word that gives your organization’s documents a consistent look. Doing it in Word means that if you need it updated in the future, almost anyone can open a document and do it. Plus, you can easily convert the document into a PDF and look super professional when sending documents.

In my current job at SFU we create a lot of Word documents for external use – resources for students, community organizations, etc. What has been incredibly wonderful has been to have a template with which to create all future documents. The title font, the section headers, the text, the text boxes, the bullets are all predetermined. It makes creating new document designs incredibly easy, as the design work is already done for you. Your organization’s logo is in the header or footer – always in the same place. It means that documents are branded, are recognizable, easy to work with and easy to create. From there it’s easy to create PDF that looks professional, can be sent nicely over email, and can be printed easily. Note that if you are doing huge print jobs and are using a professional printer (ie beyond Staples), you’re going to need The Designer after all.

Who can get this done?

There are really two parts to getting things done: 1) creating the original template, and 2) implementing the template across all existing documents. The design can be done by a design savvy person at your organization, by a professional paid designer, or by a skilled volunteer. Implementing the template could be done by the same person, or by any staff or volunteer at your organization familiar with Word. Kitsilano Neighbourhood House recently posted a skilled volunteer opportunity like this on through Volunteer Vancouver looking for almost exactly these two tasks. I’m thinking about applying for it. Like I said at the beginning – happy tears.