October 22, 2019
Developing a Branding Style Guide

By Tiffany Applegate

Tiffany Applegate
Creating a strong brand is critical to the success and sustainability of all nonprofits, but many often misunderstand about what branding really is.

Everything you do or don’t do contributes to your organization’s brand.

Every interaction (phone calls, appearances, meetings) and every point of contact (brochures, website, mailings) impacts how your organization is viewed by those in your community. The perception of these individuals and the community at-large will greatly impact the long-term sustainability of your organization.

Developing an effective, powerful brand will allow your organization to:
  • Efficiently and effectively communicate your organization’s mission and values.
  • Communicate what you do, in a unique way, and convey the notion that no one could do it better or smarter.
  • Build and maintain trust within the community.
  • Greatly increase the number of board members, staff, clients, funders, etc. for your organization.
  • Stimulate word-of-mouth promotional activity.
You can quickly ascertain the general value of your brand by asking a few key questions:
  • Are those in your community (clients, donors, funders, volunteers, etc) aware of your organization?
  • How highly do they esteem your organization and the services you provide?
  • Is your mission and work relevant to the community? Do they share your passion?
  • What makes you special or unique from other nonprofits and service organizations?
  • Is your organization easily confused or mistaken for another similar organization?
The answers to these questions can help you determine whether or not your organization is suffering from a branding crisis.

Branding and Design Guidelines

If you are in the middle of a crisis, or looking to prevent one from occurring, developing branding and design guidelines is a first and very important step to differentiating your organization from other nonprofits. These guidelines will provide a clear and consistent framework for communicating with a variety of audiences in the community.

Without guidelines and consistency in design, your organization is likely to confuse those in the community. People don’t know what to expect from one experience to another. This impacts the level of trust and engagement from community members.

Think of your own experiences. Have you ever met anyone that presented themselves differently every time you interacted with them? Sometimes they were extremely social and outgoing and at other times they were moody and wouldn’t speak to you – a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type personality. You may be weary of too much interaction and keep a little distance in the friendship. This is the same type of impact your organization makes on a community when you continuously repackage your brand and present yourself differently from one campaign/interaction to another.

Key elements of branding and design guidelines include the following:

  1. A Resource Database: Make a repository of acceptable images and fonts for your organization. This should be accessible to all those who are developing marketing/branding materials or communicating with various audiences. This resource database should also include logos and templates (Word, PowerPoint, fax, etc).

  2. Logo Guidelines: Many organizations have several acceptable versions of their logo (vertical, horizontal, with tagline and without). Be sure to document guidelines on when to use each version.

  3. Page Architecture: Set guidelines for how your ads, newsletters, postcards, brochures, flyers, etc. should be designed and what should be included in each. For example, one nonprofit required that all design materials had to be split in thirds: one-third for text and two-thirds for an image or vice-versa. This provided programs some creativity in their presentation but kept the overall look for the organization consistent.

  4. Imagery: Develop policies on the types of images that will be used in all design. This may include guidelines such as images must have a clean look and set on a white background, or images must be cropped so that only a portion of the complete image is showing. Provide examples of acceptable images in the documentation.

  5. Typefaces: Using consistent typefaces (fonts) is critical to branding your organization. Select the fonts that are acceptable for your organization and list them in your guidelines. Also include how each font should be used. For example: NimbusSans will be used for all body text.

  6. Color Palette: Select a color palette (that matches your logo) that can be used when creating all materials. This color palette should be broad enough to allow for creativity, but should be concise enough so that it is easily recognizable. Consider the meanings of colors while selecting your palette.

  7. Copy Writing: Develop a list of words or themes to be woven into all presentations of your organization. For example, words can “impact,” “build,” “go,” “live,” and so forth. This framework will provide a thematic element that makes it easier to write copy for a variety of materials. The words and themes may change slightly for each program or audience.
Though this is not a complete list of the elements to include in branding and design guidelines, spending the time to develop these standards will increase your consistency and impact the reputation of your organization.

Tiffany Applegate is senior partner at Factor Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at tapplegate@xfactorllc.com or 417-894-4640.

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