How can we use design thinking to market a local non-profit organization?

Project Overview:

In this project, students worked with the directors and board of Fraser Valley Down Syndrome Society (FVDSS) to develop a marketing plan for the organization. The marketing plan portion of the project spanned nine weeks and had students move through the design process (curricular competencies), completing a new aspect of the plan each week. Sections included empathizing with the client, conducting market research, brainstorming ideas for the 7 Ps of non-profit marketing, developing an ideal customer journey map, designing a social media plan, and new visual brand. Throughout the process, students met with the directors for feedback to ensure they were moving in the right direction. They presented the final plan and made recommendations for the advertising stage of the project. Once the marketing plan was approved, students hired a graphic designer and passed on the vision of the plan so that the initial aspects could be implemented.

“I loved that this project gave students the opportunity to do real work. The FVDSS directors were blown away by the finished project and the amount of research that went into it. The students ideas have real potential to improve the marketing and therefore financial stability of the organization. The main challenge I experienced was working within the school’s schedule and the interruptions and unexpected schedule changes. This caused the project to be delayed and limited our ability to implement portions of the plan in the second stage of the project. In a future version of this project, I would need to provide more time at each stage and/or remove portions of the project. This would relieve some of the stress I experienced in trying to get everything done well and on time.”

Tanya Kieneker, ACS Marketing Director & Educational Technology Coordinator


  • Marketing plan in print and presentation

How has this engaged students in ACS’ mission and vision?

Engaging Minds: Instead of learning about marketing plans and advertising campaigns through lectures, video, or reading, students learned through real-world experience, developing an actual marketing plan for a real organization.

Nurturing Hearts: The project began with empathy, the first step in the design process. Students were challenged to not just understand the problem facing FVDSS and parents of children with Down Syndrome, but to understand the people – to see and feel what they see and feel.

Shaping God’s World: Students helped a non-profit to succeed in their mission and vision of helping families effected by Down Syndrome. They saw that marketing can be used for God’s good, even when not working for a “Christian” organization.

How has this learning experience served or connected to our community?

This project was all about serving our greater community. The students saw that FVDSS has an inspiring vision and is meeting a unique need within the Fraser Valley. But they also saw how their marketing and branding weren’t a reflection of their amazing work. By implementing aspects of the marketing plan, FVDSS will hopefully become more financially stable and therefore able to provide their services to more Down syndrome families.

“Students were highly engaged in this project. They knew their work would make a true difference and I overheard them saying things like ‘This is so exciting. We’re actually going to help a real organization.’ Because we worked on this as an entire class, there was a lot of opportunity for students to choose what portions of the project they wanted to work on and what skills they wanted to develop. It stretched many of them as it wasn’t standard ‘desk work.’ They also grew in their collaboration skills as we had to not only work together as a class, but also work with the directors at FVDSS.”

Student Reflection


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Empathy Map with Questions
Seven Ps of Non-Profit Marketing
Design Thinking
SWOT Analysis