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  • Writer's pictureLeah Josephson

Our favorite free design tools to make your reports stand out

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

A notebook filled with doodles sits open on a table with a pen.

At Emergence Collective we’re committed to setting our partners up to continue the work, even after our project is complete. Often this means sharing dashboards, reports and other finished materials in formats that nonprofit teams can access and feel confident using, like Google Slides or Excel. These can also be updated in the future.

As a graphic designer, I love getting creative with pricey, professional products like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, but even if you’re using non-fancy tools, you can use basic design principles to produce effective materials. We recommend checking out Stephanie Evergreen’s data visualization blog and books for some DIY tutorials to get started.

Below is a roundup of some of my favorite free or low-cost online tools to strengthen your designs.


SlidesCarnival offers free Google Slides and Powerpoint templates for sleek, professional presentations. Often the templates include eye-catching icons to use as visual aids.


IconFinder and The Noun Project both provide sets of icons to use in your materials. Filter your search for free options. You may need to pay for an upgraded set of icons if you want to change the color scheme.

Fair Use Photos

Respect artists’ labor; don’t grab pictures off the internet if they’re not explicitly designated as available for free use! Here’s how to use Google to identify photos and images that are freely available to you:

1. In your image search results, click “Search Tools.”

2. Select “Usage rights” and filter by an appropriate level for your use (commercial or noncommercial).

3. Be sure to filter for only large photos in size if you need a high resolution image, which is likely for presentations or print materials.

4. Follow the link to the original photo source website to double check that the photo is clearly marked by the owner as available for reuse.

Unfortunately people of color, disabled people, and LGBTQ+ folks are rarely pictured in standard stock photo libraries. Check out this great blog post by Sheila M. Robinson for the American Evaluation Association for a list of mostly free resources for finding stock photos that are representative of diverse folks.


While it has some limitations and requires some training and practice, GIMP is a free, open-source alternative to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Even easier to use is Canva, which provides plenty of free templates and an easy-to-use interface to design flyers, social media images, and more. There’s also a nonprofit discount available for the premium version. For simple sketches and doodles, you can use Sketchboard, a fun virtual whiteboard.

Colors & Fonts

If you’re not sure exactly what font is featured on your organization’s logo or old materials, use What the Font or Identifont to upload an image of the text in question. These tools detect possible fonts so you can choose one that’s the closest match to your style.

Consider branching out from the standard MS Word options – plenty of free fonts are available to download from FontSquirrel and other free font sites.

You can sample and match colors from an image using Colorzilla (again, helpful if you’re using old image files without a style guide).

Finally, Adobe Color is a free tool that can help you develop color palettes to make your overall design cohesive.

Questions about using any of these tools, or want to work with us to revamp your organization’s materials? Feel free to get in touch!

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