Why Your Nonprofit Needs a Brand Book
Pam Georgiana, MBA is the Vice President of Engagement for Lutheran Social Services in Ohio. She is a marketing strategy professional with more than 20 years of experience in experiential and relational marketing, communications, and branding. She is passionate about identifying trends, brainstorming innovative engagement ideas and creative brand messaging and turning them into impactful strategies that change the world.
People perceive brands the same way they perceive other people. These perceptions shade their feelings, both good and bad, towards a product or an organization.
Most of us have deep and meaningful long-term relationships with our favorite brands. Starbucks gets me up and out of bed, my evenings are made more enjoyable by Netflix, and I count on my Apple iPhone to connect me to the world.
In our competitive marketplace with all of the engagement choices we face, brands need to compete for attention and dollars by building long-term relationships with customers. This applies to both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
Nonprofits need to promote a positive brand identity, and maintain consistency across marketing channels and platforms, in order to build trust and confidence for their mission. Without this, it can be difficult to build deep relationships and sustain long-term loyalty.
A brand book ensures that your brand communication, both internally and externally, is consistent and cohesive. Below, we’ll explore into what an internal and external brand book could look like, and why they’re important for your nonprofit.
Start With the Internal View
An internal brand style guide is critical to ensuring staff members have the resources and guidance they need to communicate your nonprofit’s brand correctly. Currently, I am the vice president of engagement for Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in Columbus, Ohio. My marketing team of three supports a 100-year old social service agency of more than 20 disparate programs.
There is no way that our tiny team could manage every brand-related task that comes up in a day. We rely on our program directors and development team partners to help us manage the workload, but we also can’t leave communicating important elements of the brand to chance.
When you do that, well-meaning relationship managers send out stretched and pixelated logos to donors. Or busy program directors give incorrect program names to reporters who call. Without proper oversight and resources, the accidental sharing of incorrect information and off-brand elements results in a bad representation of our brand, which is not conducive to building long-term engagement or loyalty.
To address the issue of inadvertent bad branding, my team created an internal style guide. It helps us manage brand communication tasks through our internal partners when we can’t provide direct oversight. Here’s what it looks like:
As a general rule of thumb, a brand book should always start with your organization’s mission statement, vision statement, purpose statement, and values. Our brand is nothing without a clear mission, strong values, and an aspirational vision. It’s critical to remind our staff and internal partners why our organization exists and the impact of what we do.
This part includes rules and usage guidelines for logos, approved fonts and when they should be used, specific brand colors, and our image or photo guidelines. More importantly, the book also includes samples of how not to use our visual elements.
For example, we clearly outline how to resize or crop our logos. We never want the most recognizable symbol of our brand used improperly:
There are also guidelines on the types of photos and images that are right for our brand. We back these guidelines up with a content library (separate from the style guide) so that employees can access the correct images as needed:
Our internal brand book also includes a communication style guide, which outlines the verbal and written messaging guidelines for LSS. It includes our:
- Brand personality
- Approved program names
- Rules on words that are highly sensitive
- Writing guidelines, such as when to capitalize a program name
- Email signature and voice mail guidelines
- Approved press release boiler plate
Our brand personality is a set of human characteristics that we to be connected to and associated with. It affects the tone and words we use in all communications, both internally and externally.
Primarily, LSS uses it as a guide to help write content like social media posts, direct mail appeals, press releases, and web pages. These words outline the feelings that we hope donors, volunteers, clients, employees, or community members feel when they hear the LSS name:
Since our agency is so large and we have so many programs, it is important to us that we maintain a list of approved program names that bind us together. To that end, we’ve set up a brand architecture in which the agency is the master brand, and our programs are sub-brands. Our employees need to be familiar with these rules, so this list is front and center in the style guide.
The other communication details in our brand book are necessary for consistency and clarity. Most brands have a list of words that they don’t use because they are not “brand right.” These words may not reflect the brand’s personality, or they are considered offensive or rude. We have the same list of words.
For example, LSS does not use the word “needy” because it generalizes a group of people instead of being descriptive. LSS also does not use the word “batterer” because it is not descriptive enough when discussing all of the ways an abuser (the more acceptable word) can harm a domestic violence victim. This list is critical to share with partners who may need to write donor quotes for press releases or social media posts for the agency.
How to Use an Internal Style Guide
This internal style guide is readily available to every staff member who may need to communicate with an external party. That could be:
- Members of a neighborhood or community group
For example, when a church group needs our logo and photo of their team volunteering at your food pantry, our volunteer manager can provide them assets that fit our guidelines. If a public relations officer needs a quote about our domestic violence shelter, we know that the content our program manager provides will be brand right and useful.
The outcome of situations like this is a reflection of your brand. It must be clear and recognizable in every marketing and communication vehicle that you produce. If there is a disconnect, your brand message becomes murky. These mixed messages are often noticed publicly and can undermine your hard work and dedication to your mission.
The External Guide
An external brand book is a great resource to give partners who might need to use your brand in their marketing or promotional materials. Think of it as an extension of your internal brand style guide.
Ours is a small, printed book that includes our mission, values, website, boilerplate, logo, and Pantone and CMK colors. It’s not as detailed as the internal book because it’s used for very specific and simple external requests.
Here are a few examples of when it’s been useful:
- An interior designer choosing paint and furniture for our new homeless shelter
- A foundation partner writing a collaborative press release to announce a grant awarded to LSS
- Event professionals helping to plan a fundraiser for our domestic violence shelter
- A city public relations officer planning to support our efforts during an awareness month on social media
- Volunteer speaker’s bureau members who are training to represent the brand at community events
By offering this resource, as well as access to our content library, we minimize the chances our brand is misrepresented while hopefully moving the needle on long-term engagement with critical partners. The more accommodating we can be those who want to work with us, the more opportunities we have for engagement in the future. Still, we always ask for final approval on every marketing piece, just in case.
The Future is Bright
A brand is like a child: you have to keep it strong, but you also have to let it make its way out in the world. As you work, always remember that your brand is also your reputation and your future. You must keep it protected from harm.
A brand book is the guide you use to represent your nonprofit clearly, concisely, and consistently, even when you are not there to hold its hand. My hope is that our internal and external brand books will help keep LSS healthy and thriving for the next 100 years.
Design Basics for Nonprofit Professionals
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