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Why Your Nonprofit Needs Branding Guidelines

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Published May 15, 2023 Reading Time: 5 minutes

Businesses use brand strategy to form connections with customers, and that strategy goes beyond selecting a company logo or company name. It means establishing a brand identity built on thoughtful design, tone, and messaging. These intentional identifiers help your product or service resonate in more meaningful ways to foster consumer loyalty.

Similarly, nonprofits can use brand strategy to foster a community of supporters. A strong brand identity tells a compelling story about your work, whether on a donation website or through email marketing. In other words, your brand invites donors to join your nonprofit’s mission.

By extension, brand guidelines ensure you tell a consistent story that guides supporters toward your cause. Below, we’ll cover what brand guidelines are, why they’re important, key elements to include in your brand book, and tips for getting started.

What Are Brand Guidelines?

Brand guidelines detail how you present your nonprofit to the world. These function best when compiled into a well-organized brand book that your team can reference whenever they have questions.

Often, brand guidelines include visual elements, like your brand logo files, color palette, and typography, as well as notes on tone of voice for your messaging. Brand guidelines can also include links to on-brand photo folders, marketing templates, and other brand assets.

Typically, organizations will have two brand books: internal and external.

Internal vs. External Brand Guidelines

Internal brand guidelines cover all the details of your brand’s style, including program names, use of high-quality imagery, and proper formatting. This style guide ensures every staff member can help keep your communications consistent.

For example, a volunteer coordinator may use your brand guidelines when creating promotional flyers for an event. Or a major gifts officer might reference them to ensure their message to a donor strikes the right tone. They also come in handy when sharing internal announcements with your team or conducting a staff-wide presentation.

External brand guidelines are a condensed version of your internal brand book. These give a quick overview of your mission, values, website, logo, and CMYK colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black)—commonly used for designing print communications.

Additionally, external brand guidelines are useful for collaborating with vendors or community partners. For example, a color palette could help an interior designer set up your event space. Or your organizational highlights may help a city official speak about your cause during an awareness month.

3 Reasons Your Nonprofit Needs Brand Guidelines

While there are many reasons to invest in your own brand, the best brand guidelines always support three key outcomes.

1. Create a Cohesive Narrative

Brand consistency helps tell a compelling story about your nonprofit’s work. This is critical, as storytelling is the catalyst for conversions. A strong brand ensures supporters don’t get lost in muddled or contradicting narratives. By sticking to a style guide, you ensure your story is clear and easy to follow. As a result, donors can see directly how their gifts lead to impact.

2. Encourage Donor Trust

The narrative you establish through a consistent brand message can also increase donor trust. When you use cohesive, professional formats, donors are more likely to perceive your brand as modern and sophisticated. Your consistent look and feel become something they can rely on, helping them trust that you’ll use their gifts effectively. That certainty promotes lasting relationships with donors.

3. Support Your Staff, Volunteers, and Partners

Your staff, volunteers, and partners all want to see you succeed, but they may not know how to represent you. Brand guidelines provide a useful rule book for your team to better understand appropriate brand uses. Having your color schemes, logo guidelines, and messaging goals in one place helps your team assist in creating cohesive marketing materials and other external communications.

What Are the Key Elements of Brand Guidelines?

Brand identity guidelines should include design elements and messaging considerations that create a comprehensive view of your nonprofit. There are five key brand elements to include.

1. Mission

Brand guidelines should always start with your nonprofit’s mission statement. You can also include notes on your nonprofit’s vision and values. These elements guide everything you do. Having this information upfront in your brand book reminds your team and partners why you exist and the impact you have. All other elements of your brand should tie back to this.

2. Tone

A brand personality is a set of human characteristics that you want people to associate with your nonprofit. These guide your brand voice, helping set your tone and word choices in internal and external communications.

As a team, brainstorm around three to six words that you want your donors, volunteers, beneficiaries, and community partners to feel when they think of you. For example, your brand personality could be:

  • Interactive
  • Innovative
  • Thoughtful
  • Compassionate
  • Fun
  • Accessible

3. Visuals

This section of your brand book includes everything related to your visual identity. A main piece of this is your brand logos. Include details on how to resize or crop logos and where to find high-resolution versions of them. You’ll also want to include any secondary logos and note approved uses, such as a smaller logo to use as a favicon (browser tab icon) for your nonprofit website.

Your visual brand also includes your brand colors. Include information on RGB color codes (red, blue, and green) or hex codes staff can use in graphic design.

Refer to your brand personality to ensure your visuals and iconography match the tone you want to set. Then, note any inconsistencies you may need to correct. For example, if your brand voice has a minimalist approach, flashy colors and complex logos won’t convey that tone.

4. Typography

The typeface is another way to communicate your brand. Fonts can express boldness, elegance, playfulness, and other characteristics your nonprofit may want to embody. Note in your brand guidelines which fonts staff should use. Include font sizes and styling, consider the different headers you may use, and note any preferences for white space between text.

5. Communications

The communications section of your brand book should outline verbal and written messaging guidelines for your nonprofit. This helps align everything from your social media posts and press releases to your tagline and logo usage.

This section may include instructions on:

  • Program names: Ensure everyone knows the full, proper names for your programs, how and when to capitalize them, and any approved acronyms.
  • Word choice: Note any rules on sensitive words. For example, a homeless shelter may refer to its guests as “people experiencing homelessness” rather than “the homeless.”
  • Email and voicemail: Share how staff should format their email signatures and record voicemail messages.
  • Press releases: Offer approved press release templates and stock language.

Your communications should always tie back to the tone outlined in your brand guide.

How Do You Set Up Brand Guidelines?

Starting with a mood board is a great first step for developing brand guidelines, whether conducting a nonprofit rebrand or establishing a new brand. A mood board is a visual arrangement of images, textures, colors, and text that speak to a specific concept or style.

Once you have a few words that evoke the tone you want to convey, look through magazines, websites, and other materials for anything that resonates with them. The collage you make from these images can then give you ideas for your logo design and other elements to include in your brand style guide.

As you get started, review brand guidelines examples for inspiration. You can ask other nonprofit teams to see theirs or work with a graphic designer who may have templates to use. Overall, consider the functionality of your style guide and how it helps visually tell your brand story.

Use a Brand Style Guide to Tell Your Nonprofit’s Story and Connect With Donors

Defining and elevating your brand is an opportunity to motivate support and boost donations to your cause. Classy’s comprehensive fundraising platform keeps your brand front and center, making it easy to weave your unique story across all donor touchpoints.

When thoughtfully designed, a brand style guide supports your digital storytelling needs across donation websites, fundraising events, recurring giving campaigns, peer-to-peer campaign pages, mobile bidding, and more.

Discover how you can transform transactions into relationships with Classy’s unified donation platform. Request a demo today to see how it works.

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Design Basics for Nonprofit Professionals

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