Long before helping to start ipsoCreative, my wife and I lived in Japan and I served alongside some amazing humans in far flung Asian countries. These humans were on the front lines of meeting the various needs of people in real need: AIDS orphans in Thailand; the homeless in Mongolia; the hungry in Cambodia.
These folks on the non-profit front lines were caring, compassionate, skilled, determined, resourceful, and wise, but many of them lacked an appreciation for how much design matters. They generally believed that their mission was so important (and it is), that folks would notice and help. And to some degree that was true, but never true enough to really extend the reach of that non-profit's realm of influence.
Strangers to the non-profit's mission, who didn't have a personal connection, would fail to engage due in large part to the fact that the mission wasn't communicated in a way in which they emotionally connected. The perception would often be that if the non-profit presented its image as impoverished, then its staff lacked the expertise to be successful. Many grassroots organizations fail to get traction for this very reason.
It's not that design is cost prohibitive per se. There is some excellent design that comes from untrained folks who have a great sense of aesthetics. Natural materials and natural design elements have never gone out of style and can be very cost effective. The real issue is the value that people do or do not place in design and the intentionality with which they want to communicate their mission, their story.
Great stories of worthy missions only find their way to a limited number of ears (and eyes) without design. With design, those stories capture the imagination of our hearts and are easily transmitted from human to human. And in that way, the worthy work of those in forgotten places, among humans in tremendous need, is supported by multitudes.