A 12-Step Guide to a Successful DFAD Project

By Mark Brunetz, National Spokesperson, DFAD

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

First and foremost, thanks for checking out this simple step-by-step guide into how to execute a successful Design For A Difference (DFAD) project. The fact that you arrived here indicates you may have an interest in looking at how community-based projects like DFAD come together. Like many worthwhile projects, there is a long list of benefits that you or your company can achieve.

While my work in designing for communities began many years prior to the inception of DFAD, I’ve taken what I learned in those early days and adapted it here. The goal is to share the process at a 30,000 ft. level so that the entire project doesn’t overwhelm you to the point of resignation. Also, each step will become clearer once you’ve completed the prior step. This approach was designed to create success, not failure.

Why do you want to do a DFAD project?

Having a clear picture of what’s motivating you up front will not only serve as a touchstone throughout the project, but also allow you to achieve specific measurable results. For example, if your goal is to connect with other businesses who may potentially convert to customers, then determine the number of new customers you are looking to procure. If, on the other hand, if your desire it to tap into a new market, like the design trade for example, make it a goal to have a specific number of people from the design industry in your showroom throughout the project. It’s important to understand and distinguish your motivation so that you can set goals and manage your expectations accordingly.

The exciting news is that programs like DFAD are a win-win for all those involved. Designers, showrooms, sponsors, volunteers and of course the charity itself all benefit from engaging with DFAD. And with you at the helm, it’s likely that you or your organization will receive benefits you never even thought of as you plan out the project. With that said, let’s begin.

Step 1: Align with a Cause. My recommendation is that you identify a group of people you care about. Whether it’s supporting kids in art programs or seniors with disabilities, having the cause align with your values as a person or organization goes a long way.

Step 2: Identify a Charity. Based on the cause, conduct a simple on-line search for NPOs in your city that service the group of people you interested in supporting. Once you narrowed down the list to 2-3 potential candidates, conduct a search at www.charitynavigator.org to be sure the NPO is in good standing and has a high rating.

Step 3: Meet with Prospective Charities. Connect with the Executive Director (ED) of each NPO and set up a time to walk the premise and learn more about the charity. Tell each contact that you are considering them for a DFAD project in your area. Also, be sure to share DFAD. I recommend you ultimately decide on one space at one charity where you can make the biggest difference. Be sure to take pictures of each space that you are considering for reference. Once you decide on the charity, have ED at the NPO sign a release form.

Step 4: Assemble a Design Team. Based on the final NPO you select, you will now want to assemble a design team. Consider the scope of work for the project and solicit trade professionals based on what services you need. A well-rounded handyman or seasoned contactor is highly recommended.

Step 5: Discovery Meeting. With the design team, it’s time to meet the charity and its staff. As a designer, I suggest approaching the project the way you would approach any commercial project. Ask questions, take measurements, and snap lots of pictures. Do not start designing or making any promises. This is a discovery meeting; simply hear them out.

Step 6: Design the Space. It’s time for the design team to design the space. It’s critically important that the design honors and reflects the NPO, their mission, staff, and clients. The most common mistake here is to design a space that’s inconsistent with the above and more about making the design team look good. Both can be accomplished without sacrificing.

Step 7: Build a Budget. Now that the design is complete, it’s time to construct a budget. Itemize each item and include costs; denote trade pricing when available. Be sure to include all labor costs like demo, painting, installations, etc. Keep in mind, you can always adapt the design or value engineer certain elements. For now, include everything.

Step 8. Solicit Sponsors and/or Raise Funds. It’s time for the entire team to call upon companies to make donations to the project. The more specific the request, the better (i.e., 10 gallons of paint). These in-kind donations can be financial or product driven. Feel free to share the design boards and the budget as these materials will help potential donors visualize the completed project.

Step 9. Prepare and Distribute a Press Release. Once you have a handful of donors, it’s time to prepare a professional press release. The release will announce the project and include mention of who is spearheading the project, list the design team members, in addition to all secured donors. This document should be sent to all local media outlets with a request for coverage upon project completion.

Step 10: The Installation. Installing the design can happen over a weekend or progressively over several weekends. It’s important to discuss ideal days and times with the charity as you will want to minimize interruption of their services whenever possible. Be sure to take lots of pictures of people working.

About Mark Brunetz

Mark Brunetz is the National Spokesperson for Design for a Difference.

He is a well-known interior designer who is dedicated and passionate about not only creating stunning designs that suit his client’s needs, but also giving back to the community.