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Oct 23rd, 2019

Using Design to Dispel Misconceptions and Empower Muslim Sheroes

How to use volunteers to boost your storytelling.

Deepa Prasad
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After 10+ years in marketing and business development for Fortune 500 companies like UnitedHealth Group and Best Buy, Nausheena Hussain pivoted careers to pursue what she’s truly passionate about: promoting civil rights and justice for Muslim Americans.

Today, as the founder and Executive Director of Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment (RISE), her strength as a marketer — telling compelling stories and using design to redefine the narrative around Muslim women — is how RISE has emerged as a powerful voice in the Minnesota activism community. Under her leadership and resourceful collaboration with skills-based volunteers, RISE has reached over 12,000 Muslim women.

RISE’s mission is to amplify the voice and power of Muslim women, while combating anti-Muslim rhetoric and inequities. To do so, they run programs in 3 key verticals:

  • Muslim Sheroes: Telling the stories of incredible Muslim women who are challenging injustice and misconceptions via podcasts, digital shorts, and articles
  • Civic engagement: Empowering Muslim women to self-advocate and affect policy change through a focused legislative agenda
  • Leadership development: Hosting workshops and conferences to help women build confidence, capacity, and power to engage

As a group of unified women advocating for causes most resonant with their beliefs, it’s essential their visual brand is easily recognizable wherever they’re working and consistently represents the values they all hold most dear: Resilience. Representation. Relationships. Resourcefulness and Self-Determination. Faith.

Designing a successful volunteer project

Without a dedicated designer on staff, Nausheena and her team rely on pro bono designers who generously volunteer their time on projects like a brochure, a display banner for events, and a set of original illustrations. The end results? — Sophisticated designs that looked like they were created by a single agency. We asked Nausheena about what it takes to successfully manage a design project, and how she maintains the integrity of her brand across several projects with several designers.

Display banner by Catchafire volunteer Catherine W.

How to: keep your materials consistent across multiple designers

“If I would advise anybody, it would be to actually create a style guide,” Nausheena said. “These are our colors, these are the hex codes. We have our own font, so I provide the font files. We also provide our own photo stock/photography that we have.”

This simple, straightforward document ensures that any designer working with them can stay true to the RISE brand, and a skills-based volunteer could help any nonprofit put their own brand guidelines together.

How to: set project expectations clearly from the start

Nausheena kicks off every design project with a creative brief, which clearly articulates details like:

  • Background information on RISE and explanation of the specific need at hand
  • Target audience for the design assets
  • Ideal timeline for project completion
  • Success criteria for the project

To further set up a designer for success, she even includes creative considerations that she thinks would help. For example, when Alya D. was designing a set of illustrations for RISE’s Sheroes project, Nausheena included some helpful context in her brief: “I told her, ‘Not all Muslim women wear hijabs, so make sure there’s diversity so it doesn’t look stereotypical’,” Nausheena said. “Usually I send [the creative brief] over and rarely have I gotten questions. It’s just helpful to talk through.”

How to: deliver clear and caring feedback

Brochure by Catchafire volunteer Erika D.

Out of respect for her volunteer designers, Nausheena always kicks off a project by asking how many rounds of feedback they’re willing to do. “I remember asking Erika, do you do just 2 rounds — she said I’m open to whatever you want,” Nausheena said. “At the same time, it must be super annoying for a designer if I don’t catch a mistake in the first round, so I make sure that three of my team members look at it.”

Once she’s in the thick of a project, she knows that open dialogue is key to getting a final product they’ll both be proud of. “Sometimes with artists, their creative is different from what you might imagine,” Nausheena advised. “So I’ll phrase things like ‘This is the feeling I got when I saw this. Is there a way to change it? With that method, so far I haven’t gotten anyone that’s like, I don’t know what you want and I don’t know what you’re doing. ”

Nausheena Hussain, Executive Director of RISE

Want to follow Nausheena’s design path? Check out the following project scopes she and her team completed:

If you’re a designer and looking to give your skills for good, find virtual opportunities here.

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