What is Program Design?

In the social impact consulting space, program design defines the methods organizations use to solve a problem. For example, an education organization may design a program that trains college leaders on equitable student success to improve its equity metrics. A community development organization may design a grant-distribution program for small businesses to improve the local economy. Program designs are the blueprints organizations follow to carry out their programs.


Program design and development is an ongoing process, requiring an agile mindset and the willingness to iterate. Organizations can ask themselves these questions as they begin developing and implementing programs that create sustainable impact:


  • What parts of our systems and processes are overwhelming for our teams?
  • What is the number one priority for our organization, and does that priority align with our mission?
  • Are we optimizing digital solutions as much as possible?
  • Are we re-creating materials when we could be using templates and toolkits?
  • Do we have a system for collecting and sharing information across teams, or are crucial resources siloed?


Effective program designs answer and return to these questions often, adding new ones as their organizations, services, and prospects evolve.

Illustration of person sitting at computer writing with asset-based language

Program Design Models

Strong program design and implementation begin with models that guide strategic decisions. Program design models can address how your organization defines the following:


  • Value proposition: how your organization distinguishes itself from the competition
  • Products and services: what your organization offers, how those offerings work, and why your prospects need them
  • Impact: the measurable change your organization expects to make
  • Partners and customers: who your organization seeks to collaborate with and serve
  • Talent: who and how your organization recruits team members
  • Resources: the tools and connections your organization needs to succeed and how you will acquire and maintain them
  • Revenue: how your organization will financially sustain and grow its efforts


Developing program design principles requires extensive internal and external research and perspective. Engaging a consultancy to audit, analyze, and evaluate your organization can support the creation of programs your team may not have the capacity to design alone.


Program Design Tools

Many resources support program design and implementation, including digital tools like project management platforms, social media platforms, CRM systems, marketing automation platforms, and cloud computing tools.


Designing programs may also benefit from the use of templates, toolkits, and brainstorming techniques. Which tools to use and when to use them depend on your organization’s size, structure, and program goals.


Social Impact Program Design Examples


Social impact organizations “sell” ideas and processes (programs) that transform inequitable systems, an arduous task excellent program design makes possible and sustainable.


The Friday team works at the intersection of learning, opportunity, and community, supporting organizations scale social and economic mobility. Consider the following examples of program design for education and community organizations.


Education Program Design

Leadership teams at education institutions are fully engaged across many different departments. They can unleash their vision for learners and better support educators when cumbersome processes and outdated systems don’t bog them down.


For example, Friday supported the Lumina Foundation’s efforts to help colleges and universities accept work-and-life experience as credits toward advanced degrees by creating a new brand identity and messaging framework and digital toolkit stakeholders can use to develop these pathways.


Friday has designed several programs and tools education institutions can implement to improve their services, including:


  • Ready-to-go leadership development programs tailored to each institution
  • Customizable platforms adapting to unique pedagogical approaches
  • An online data visualization tool displaying student outcomes


Education systems are large and slow-moving. Program designers who work within these systems must be deliberate optimists who see legal and cultural roadblocks to equitable student success as opportunities for innovation.


Community Development Program Design

Program design for community development requires laser focus and cultural sensitivity to truly nurture inclusion. It can be tempting for organizations serving their communities to overextend their efforts. After all, communities are made of people who have a myriad of economic, social, and cultural experiences and needs – designing equitable programs is a nuanced calling.


For example, IndyHub’s original focus was engaging young adults in the Indianapolis area, but that work was diluted when the organization began assisting the government’s efforts to recruit talent from outside of the city. Friday helped IndyHub return to and enhance its focus, targeting specific audiences within Indianapolis.


Friday can help organizations refine their social impact program designs in the following ways:


  • Facilitate strategic planning, including identifying mission, vision, values, and models of delivery
  • Conduct workshops exploring innovative solutions to evolving problems and opportunities
  • Audit, prioritize, and plan responses to external and internal factors impacting your organization
  • Guide short and long-term goal setting, including identifying metrics to evaluate and milestones to target


Social impact program design must take an approach that combines calculated efficiency and pragmatism with unwavering empathy and compassion.


Friday’s Approach to Program Design

Three pillars define our program design framework:

Opportunity Development

We help our clients define their problems so they can deliver solutions. Those problems may be outdated internal processes, brand identity inconsistencies, or competitive pressure.

Human-Centered Design

We work with equity-minded leaders who tackle large-scale, complex issues. We design social impact programs that remove unnecessary barriers to efficient, sustainable execution, so they can achieve the work they were called to do.

Development & Implementation

In the social impact space, ideas are only as valuable as they are actionable. We help our clients take practical steps toward their vision, creating content, supporting its delivery, and ensuring its continued success.


We’ll Get in the Weeds So Your Organization Can Grow

Social impact leaders are heroes. Their powers? Making world-changing connections, inspiring cutting-edge innovation, and organizing transformative movements.  We enhance their influence, designing programs that turn connections into networks, innovation into tools, and movements into impact. Contact us to learn how we can help your organization bring its vision to life.