Effective and consistent branding also establishes a sense of trust with your supporters. Imagine a prospective donor navigates to your organization’s website and locates your donation page, but it looks completely different than the rest of the site. The donor will likely wonder if it’s safe to input their payment information and might abandon making their gift.
Therefore, to maintain long-term consistency in your branding, it's important that you create a brand guide to represent your nonprofit. This should include the key nonprofit branding elements that you need for your website, marketing materials, and more. The guide should also include details about your organization as a whole, your visual identity, and key messaging.
Since your brand provides the details that represent your organization, include some core messaging directly in your brand guide. Everything should come back to this core messaging, making it crystal clear who you are and what you stand for.
Your nonprofit’s name has been established since you filed for your Form 1023, with your official name being reflected on documents like your Form 990 and charitable solicitation registration renewals. But internally and in marketing materials, you may refer to the organization in a slightly different way.
For example, if your official nonprofit name is Save the Puppies Foundation, you might simply call yourself Save the Puppies or use the acronym STPF.
Include your official name in your brand document, alongside the other ways you might refer to the organization and the situations in which you call it different things. For example, you might set the policy that your name should be written in full on the first reference, but it can be shortened on subsequent references.
Mission and Vision Statements
Ultimately, your nonprofit exists to accomplish a mission because you have a vision for your community and the world, and all of your decisions should support that mission.
Therefore, you should include your mission and vision statements in your brand guide. This encourages anyone representing your mission to review your mission and vision statements and ensure they’re highlighting how particular campaigns, donations, or other activities will support it.
Visuals are often the first aspect of your brand that supporters remember, making them incredibly important! Your visual elements influence how your brand looks. You’ll need to configure your various tools, web builder configurations, email software features, and templates to reflect this visual brand for consistency.
You’ll need to include the following details the visual elements section of your branding document:
Your nonprofit logo is like the summary of your visual brand. It’s what you want people to see and immediately associate with your organization, similar to how you’ll associate a swoosh with Nike and a cross with the Red Cross.
To gain recognition for your logo and start associating it with your mission, incorporate that logo in all of your digital campaigns and in-person activities. Include it in the header of your website, on fundraising letters, and in your emails.
Different contexts may require different versions of your logo, so include all of these versions in your brand guide, including featuring your logo in different colors, with and without a tagline, and in vertical or horizontal orientation.
Include information about the main colors you use to represent your brand, including the swatch color and information about which are the primary versus accent colors.
In your brand guide, include both a swatch of each color to help visually show which colors will be used, as well as the RGB and HTML color code. This will help people replicate the colors as they create marketing materials or other resources for your nonprofit.
When you choose your colors, be sure to choose ones with a high contrast ratio to take the extra step to ensuring web accessibility.
While what you say is immensely important, your nonprofit should also keep in mind the typography you use to get your message across. Choose the fonts and weight that will be best associated with your mission. Then, define the hierarchy in which you’ll use those designs.
For example, in Loop’s guide to nonprofit website design firms, you can see the fonts used in the projects they find inspiring. The Oxfam Canada project cited uses heavy typography with colored-in letters for the main heading. But, as this would be challenging to read in large quantities, they switched to a lightweight, sans serif font for text paragraphs.
Nonprofits need to be sure their new employees, freelancers, or guest bloggers also accurately reflect the message they want to convey to their audience. To ensure this, include details in your brand guide about your personality and positioning to guide your messaging.
Your nonprofit’s personality goes hand-in-hand with the tone you use to convey your message. Express the adjectives you use to describe the personality of your nonprofit as a part of your brand guide. For example, you might use words like “sincere,” “optimistic,” “inclusive,” “innovative,” “traditional,” and other descriptors to define your personality.
Then, describe how to convey that personality in language. This way, you can ensure every element of your digital and in-person infrastructures reflect your personality.
Chances are, your nonprofit isn’t the only one out there trying to champion your mission. There may be similar nonprofits elsewhere in the world (or even in your own city) addressing a similar problem. But even among similar organizations, there are differences that set each one apart.
Consider what makes your nonprofit unique in the space where you operate. This is what makes up your positioning and what you can highlight to help you stand out.
For example, there are many animal shelters that exist across the globe. But each may have a certain specialty that they highlight to stand out. Some may specialize in certain breeds while others may advertise that they’re “no-kill shelters” to differentiate themselves.
Include information in your brand guide that explains what sets your nonprofit apart from others and the details you’d like to highlight to your audience moving forward.
About the Author
Ryan is a co-founder of Loop: Design for Social Good who brings a strong intuition and insight to create bold, creative & impactful websites. Ryan has led design studios in Toronto and New York using his knowledge of Human Centered Design to increase meaningful conversions and design enjoyable web experiences.