Nonprofits may not “make money”, but they are still businesses and need to function as such. And branding is an important part of any business. Nonprofit branding can help constituents understand the work you do and improve your nonprofit’s success.
Creating a nonprofit branding strategy will help ensure that you are always telling the right story. Check out the rest of this article to learn how to create a nonprofit brand guideline as well as some common nonprofit branding mistakes to avoid.
What is Nonprofit Branding?
If you’re wondering what nonprofit branding is, you have come to the right place.
Nonprofit branding is how those outside your organization view your nonprofit. It is how you tell your story and the impression that you give to those who you hope to serve and/or those who you hope will support your work. Branding includes everything from your logo to the style and tone that you use for your social media posts.
Your business cards, your website, your newsletter, and any other public information need to be designed according to your nonprofit branding guidelines. The guidelines will include the details on how you should design and format your messaging such as color, visuals, tone, font, and even specific wording.
Whether someone has heard of your nonprofit or not, your brand communicates who you are and what you stand for. If you do not make a good first impression, some people will lose interest and may choose to never interact with your nonprofit. You could lose out on donations or possible constituents needing your programs or services.
Good nonprofit branding guidelines will help people relate to your nonprofit and understand your work.
Now that we have provided some background on what nonprofit branding is, we are going to help you learn how to create a nonprofit branding guideline.
5 Things to Consider When Drafting Your Nonprofit Branding Guidelines
1. Who is your audience?
The most important thing to consider when creating nonprofit branding guidelines is who you are trying to reach.
To create effective guidelines that lead to quality branding, you need to understand who your audience is. Identifying your audience begins with developing personas.
Personas will be based on who you are trying to communicate with such as your donors, those served by your nonprofit, and perhaps the community at large. If you do not already understand who fits into each of these groups, then you can work with your staff, board of directors, or even a focus group to identify your audience(s).
You may find that you create slightly different guidelines for segments of your audience such as donors versus those using your services.
For example, if your nonprofit is focused on helping the homeless you may be trying to reach a combination of donors and those who need your services. In this case, you may have certain messaging that targets donors and different messaging aimed at the population you serve.
Even if you have multiple audiences, there should be certain aspects of your guidelines (such as your brand colors and logo) that are standard across all channels and audiences.
Understanding who your audience is allows you to better appeal to them with the right messaging.
2. What message do you want to send?
Once you understand your audience, the next stage in creating your nonprofit branding guidelines is to identify the message you want to send.
Keep in mind that nonprofit branding is how you communicate and tell your story. You want your audience(s) to have a good impression of your nonprofit and understand your work.
While you may develop different content for your different audiences, there should still be an overarching message that your general branding communicates clearly.
Think about what you want your audience to walk away feeling and thinking when they interact with your branding. What do you want them to take away?
Having one central message can help you stay consistent across all your communication channels. You do not want to confuse those just learning about your nonprofit with conflicting messages.
3. Personality or tone
Understanding your audience and the message that you want to send will help you determine the personality or tone that you should use.
Once you have chosen the proper personality/tone, you need to keep it consistent across all channels such as your website, newsletter, blog, social media, etc. Keeping a consistent tone across these channels increases the professionalism of your messaging and helps you communicate accurately.
As we have previously mentioned, you may have multiple audiences and multiple messages so tone could shift somewhat across these settings. Overall, you want to project the appropriate personality so that those you reach have the correct expectations when interacting with your nonprofit.
If your nonprofit is an animal shelter, you may use a funny or cute tone to help relate to people (either adoptees or donors).
Here is a screenshot from the Onslow County Animal Services Facebook page. You can see how they use a lighthearted tone to introduce the animals in hopes of getting them adopted.
If your nonprofit focuses on cancer research, you may use a more formal tone as it is a more serious topic.
Overall, the question of personality or tone should be easy to answer once you identify your audience.
4. Color scheme
One important part of sending the right message and building relationships is color scheme. Certain colors are known to elicit certain emotions such as red being tied to anger and being used to mark mistakes.
Colors also make people think of certain imagery such as certain blues looking like water or the sky and green making people think of nature.
If your nonprofit focuses on ocean conservation, you likely use a lot of blue because that is what we see as the color of the ocean. If you are sending messages specific to sea turtle protection, you may focus on green as that is often associated with turtles.
Here is an example of a nonprofit focused on ocean conservation that uses color well. The screenshot is from the 4Ocean website.
When creating your nonprofit branding guidelines, you want to choose colors that elicit the correct emotions and also relate to your work.
We talked about how certain colors can elicit certain emotions or tie in to the work of your nonprofit. Along those same lines, certain fonts can communicate a certain image to your audience.
Some fonts are perceived as more serious while others may seem more whimsical or comical to the reader/viewer. Make sure that you choose fonts that represent the correct personality or tone that you hope to convey.
For example, a nonprofit focused on medical research is likely to use something clean, easy to read, and professional. In contrast, if your nonprofit is a summer camp, a font that is seen as more fun may be appropriate.
Even if you feel that a less serious font fits your nonprofit, it will still need to be readable and professional enough to gain the correct type of attention. You may of course also find that certain fonts are appropriate for certain audiences or channels.
Now that we have discussed a few main considerations when developing your nonprofit branding guidelines, we are going to share some general rules that will help you develop strong branding for your nonprofit.
Nonprofit Branding: General Rules to Follow
While many nonprofit staff are good at telling their stories, there are a few general rules to help keep your nonprofit branding focused and functional.
Have Consistency Across All Channels
One thing that is very important is consistency across all channels. Once you have developed your nonprofit branding guidelines, you will use these to keep all communication on brand.
Keeping this type of consistency will ensure that your nonprofit comes across as professional and sends the right message. While you need to stay consistent based on your branding guidelines, you can still create different types of messages for your different channels.
Consistency is related to keeping the same color scheme and similar imagery so that people can tell information comes from your organization. You want these branding schemes to immediately tell someone which nonprofit they are hearing from.
Don’t forget to include visuals in your branding. Depending on the channel and your audience, you want to make sure you catch their attention quickly and visuals can be a perfect way to do that.
Infographics are a great to communicate your impact in a visual way so that your audience can learn without having to read blocks of text.
Social media should focus more on images and even videos because these are what catch people’s attention and they are looking for something short and simple to interact with. You can utilize links to provide more information which they can choose to click if they are interested.
Demonstrate Your Impact
Your nonprofit branding should clearly demonstrate and communicate your impact. Remember that you are trying to reach people who may be donors or those who may need to use your services.
People will be interested or become interested in your nonprofit because your work and your impact have meaning to them. Use your branding to demonstrate this impact in a way that elicits emotions and keeps their attention.
Keep It Simple
While you want to tell your story through your branding, you also need to keep it simple. If someone clicks to your website, they will not want to read paragraph upon paragraph to learn about you. They will appreciate short snapshots of text, photos, videos, stories from those you serve, and easily accessible information.
You can build in more detail about the story of your organization into certain pages of your website so that they can find the information if they are interested. Do not bombard them with too much detail up front as this will be a turn off.
Mistakes to Avoid Making Your Nonprofit Branding Guidelines
It can be very easy to make mistakes in nonprofit branding, especially because your staff may not have a branding or marketing background. We are going to outline a few common nonprofit branding mistakes to avoid.
One mistake that may be easy to fall into is copying others. You may see a great idea and think that it is perfect for your nonprofit. Try to avoid directly copying it because your nonprofit branding is what helps you stand out among all nonprofits.
It is alright to use similar concepts from branding that you like, but find ways to make them unique.
Not Making Time
To truly develop quality nonprofit branding guidelines will take time. Make sure that you create a plan for this process and dedicate the resources to do it well, otherwise it will hurt you in the long run.
Trying to Go it Alone
You will need to seek at least some outside input when developing your nonprofit branding guidelines. It will be necessary to gauge other people’s impressions of your nonprofit as that is what branding is for. This includes knowing the current perception of your nonprofit and whether you are working to change that.
People will have many opinions about your nonprofit, so polling your constituents through focus groups, surveys, or similar methods may play a crucial role in developing your branding guidelines.
One important thing to remember is that people change, communication channels change, and your nonprofit also changes.
Just because you develop nonprofit branding guidelines (even great ones) does not mean that the job is done. You need to continually evolve and pay attention to what people say and think about your nonprofit.
You are also likely to have changes in your audience(s) over the life of your nonprofit so you need to continue to evolve and keep your branding current.
Making it Complicated
Although we have given you a lot of information about how to create a nonprofit brand guideline, you need to keep things simple.
It can be easy to make things complicated and overthink the process of creating your nonprofit branding guidelines. While you do need to make sure all of the details are thought through, you don’t want to make things too difficult to follow and run the risk of sending unclear messages to your audience.
Keep a simple color scheme that is easy to follow across channels as well as text fonts that are easily available. You also want to keep messages relatively simple and straightforward so that people don’t lose interest or get confused.
4 Best Nonprofit Branding Examples
Many of you have likely heard of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. They have a very recognizable brand of helping fight childhood cancer. They use simple colors of red and black in their logo and you can see this stays consistent throughout their website.
The screenshot below from their website also gives good examples of using images and storytelling to help communicate their messaging. They immediately introduce you to a patient to create a relationship and demonstrate the impact of their work.
As you continue to view their website you will see consistency with the font, color scheme, and imagery throughout. They also keep simplistic text combined with images on the landing page to allow the user to choose what they want to learn more about.
Here is a post from the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Facebook page demonstrating how they use child focused concepts across channels. You will also note the consistency of their logo and naming.
2. United Way
One very well known nonprofit is United Way. They have affiliate organizations nationwide, all of which operate under the same logo and branding. United Way and other nationwide organizations such as this are great examples of keeping on brand even when there are multiple locations.
The image in their logo of an outstretched hand with a person on top does a wonderful job of demonstrating their work of helping others. The use of blue and yellow also creates a positive feeling and a clean image.
The screenshot below from their website shows good use of imagery with brief text to help explain their work and demonstrate their impact. Images of real people help catch your attention and the descriptions can help you choose what to learn more about.
Many of you are probably familiar with the classic black and white logo for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). They use the panda as a clean and simple way of representing their work to protect endangered species worldwide. Below is their logo for your reference.
Their website uses imagery of various locations and animals to help visually show what the nonprofit stands for. The classic black and white panda logo appears on all of their information to easily tie back to their brand.
Their nonprofit branding also includes simple statements about their work and the impact that your support will have. This is a good example of keeping things simple while also making it clear to those researching your nonprofit what you do and the impact of their support.
Another recognizable nonprofit is the Ocean Conservancy. We mentioned earlier that color schemes are an important piece of nonprofit branding guidelines. The Ocean Conservancy focused on work with oceans so they use a good amount of blue in their branding.
You will see from their website that they also use images as a way of demonstrating the work that they do. There are images and videos of various ocean animals and ocean settings throughout their website which make it very clear what the nonprofit stands for.
Similar to the well known imagery of the WWF, the Ocean Conservancy has a circular logo, shown below, made up of several ocean creatures which is easily recognizable because it is all over their marketing materials.
Each of the four nonprofits that we have highlighted have strong logos which are the base of a good nonprofit branding strategy.
You can see in the screenshot below that Ocean Conservancy also keeps logo, color, and theme consistency between their website and Facebook. They use images and videos of ocean animals to gain their audience’s attention and share their mission.
Wrapping Up: The Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Branding
There are many parts to creating your nonprofit branding guidelines. Your nonprofit branding is what sets your nonprofit apart. To develop strong branding guidelines you want to make sure that you know your audience and have a clear understanding of the message that you are trying to send.
You can use the background information that we have provided to help you begin to develop strong nonprofit branding guidelines and to make sure that everyone putting out materials on behalf of your nonprofit follows the same guidelines to keep your information consistent.