A/D/O by MINI | Antarctic: Design to Drive Donations

Journal

Graphic/Visual

Antarctic: Design to Drive Donations

Through his agency Antarctic, Michael Yuasa uses design to help LGBTQ+ and other nonprofit organizations gain exposure and exceed fundraising targets.

“Ever since I was really little, I have been starting businesses,” Michael Yuasa reminisced to The Journal, during an interview at his Brooklyn apartment. The founder of New York agency Antarctic, who tried to sell dirt to his mother, and rocks and seashells to his neighbors, was evidently born with entrepreneurial flair. Today, his agency’s main clients today are nonprofit organizations that specialize in helping LGBTQ+ and other groups, who need creative services to drive donations.

“Our main expertise is in digital fundraising,” he said. “We do a lot of web development, and that includes strategy for a persuasive design experience, aiming to inform visitors about the nonprofit is doing, and what their dollar-for-dollar impact will be.”

By creating visually enticing content for advertising campaigns both on- and off-line, and targeting it at the right audiences, Yuasa is able to help these nonprofits – like God's Love We Deliver, which delivers meals to those too sick to shop or cook for themselves – reach fundraising targets and take some of the burden off overstretched staff members.

“We really focus on building strategy into a site with messaging, clever copyright and creative,” he said. “A lot of nonprofits are completely strapped for time. They have a communications manager, and maybe a junior communications manager, running all their platforms: Instagram, Facebook, newsletters, events... They're totally buried, so it's really hard for them to get perspective on what's happening, or what's possible.”

Originally from Seattle, Yuasa went to college in Southern California and spent time in Lake Tahoe before graduating. It was here that he developed his first real business, selling snowboard wax. After college, he moved back to Seattle and started Antarctic as a record label.

“We were throwing parties and doing shows to promote the bands, and then brands started pressing us about getting involved,” he said. “And then all of a sudden, Antarctic turned into an agency because we were working with these brands, and they needed content.” Meanwhile, Yuasa interlaced community projects that would benefit from the same skills and output as the brands, before eventually pivoting to almost fully focusing on nonprofits. “I found out that I like working with the nonprofit sector best,” he said. “They needed the most help.”

During last year’s World Pride celebration in New York City, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, Antarctic worked on a campaign for Sage – a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ+ seniors. The campaign featured portraits of Sage community members shot by photographer Ari Seth Cohen and bold copy that read “Refuse to be Invisible,” aiming to draw attention to the issue of effectively having to go back into the closet when they move into senior housing or care.

By commissioning eye-catching portraits, rather than using stock imagery, the campaign was able to highlight personal stories of members from an often overlooked group and encourage donations to help them. “The ads ran in Times Square, and we got a ton of signups from the national campaign that ran out,” Yuasa said. “Design really helped to make it a successful campaign.”

Antarctic is hoping for similar success through current collaborations with Manhattan’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, which exhibits work by queer-identifying artists, and the Ali Forney Center that helps homeless LGBTQ+ youths. The agency is also updating the website for the Pride festival in Yuasa’s hometown of Seattle. All of these projects require a keen visual eye, as well as savvy strategy.

“I step back and look at it as a creative director and say, ‘is this something I want to look at? Is this going to get my attention? Or is this boring?’” Yuasa said.

When starting with a new organization, the agency finds it important to speak to existing donor bases to find out what motivates them to contribute, and what type of content they find the most appealing. This enables Antarctic to build a strategy around  and widen the pool of . For example, the work that Sage does connects with older generations who might relate to issues faced by their peers, while the Ali Forney Center benefits from celebrity endorsements that appeal to younger people.

“It's really important to identify and think about the demographics, and who that specific message would resonate with,” said Yuasa.

Looking ahead, Yuasa would like Antarctic to assist more for-profit companies and Fortune 500 corporations in their efforts to support communities, and improve their messaging around sustainability or ethical manufacturing. But he of course wants to continue the agency’s work in the nonprofit sector.

Using design to hone messaging, target specific audiences and streamline online experiences, Antarctic has proven its ability to increase digital fundraising for organizations who rely on public support in order to help marginalized groups and those in need. Yuasa encourages others in the creative industries to work with nonprofits, for both professional and personal benefit.

“A lot of other creatives that we work with, their skills have really been honed in the commercial world,” Yuasa said. “Those same skills can be applied to nonprofit or cause-based work, and we're always looking for people that are hungry to take those skills and apply them to raising more money for a specific cause.”

Text by Dan Howarth.

Portrait photography by Sara Kerens.

A global community of creators empowered by MINI to boldly explore the future of design.