Nonprofit Brand Development: 4 Best Practices
You’re more than likely familiar with the idea of branding, as it’s how for-profit organizations sell their products and services to consumers. Companies that have mastered the art of branding have a competitive advantage and instant recognition of their imagery—consider the Nike Swoosh or the Apple symbol, for example. Each brand has a particular logo, fonts, colors, imagery, and messaging customers associate with the product or service. If customers have a good experience with a brand, seeing these elements will help them to recognize and trust the item so they’re more likely to make a purchase.
Branding is important for nonprofits, too! Even though you aren’t selling a traditional product or service, you’re still selling something—your mission. Your nonprofit’s brand helps you stand out from other organizations, makes you recognizable, and instills a sense of trust in supporters that inspires them to get involved.
In this guide, we’ll walk through the following four best practices for nonprofit brand development:
- Understand Your Nonprofit’s Audience
- Create a Nonprofit Brand Guide
- Brand Consistently Across Marketing Channels
- Know When It’s Time to Rebrand
Nonprofit branding is an ongoing process, not just a one-time initiative. Use the tips in this article to get started, and consider partnering with a creative design agency to answer your questions and take your nonprofit’s brand to the next level. Let’s dive in!
1. Understand Your Nonprofit’s Audience
The first major factor you’ll need to consider when developing your organization’s brand is your audience. Your nonprofit is able to make an impact because of your donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders. So, your brand needs to be appealing and memorable to them above all else.
The data your nonprofit collects will be an essential tool in designing your brand with your audience in mind. To understand your audience better, follow these three steps:
- Examine demographic data. Key points to consider here include supporters’ age, gender, location, education, family status, and wealth.
- Analyze past engagement. For each supporter, look at the types of interactions they’ve had with your organization in the past (donating, volunteering, attending events, etc.), their recency and frequency of engagement, the amount of time or money they’ve invested in your nonprofit, and their motivation for getting involved.
- Segment your supporters. Combine your analysis of demographic and engagement data to develop segments of supporters who share similar characteristics. For example, you might create one group of experienced recurring donors who are motivated by the trust built throughout their years of involvement with your organization, and another group of younger volunteers who are passionate about creating positive social change.
Once you’ve segmented your supporters, you can shape your brand based on their interests. As you design new brand elements, test them out on a few supporters from each segment to ask for their feedback. Then, use their insights to improve your communications over time.
2. Create a Nonprofit Brand Guide
Loop’s guide to best practices in nonprofit design recommends creating a brand guide to maintain consistency across your marketing materials. It also ensures that anyone inside or outside your organization who works on your marketing materials and communication strategy has a reference for the branding standards you’ve set.
Your nonprofit brand guide can be divided into two main sections, which we’ll explore in more detail:
Messaging refers to how you communicate about your organization, which includes elements such as:
- Tone. The tone your nonprofit uses when communicating with supporters expresses your organization’s personality. Is your organization generally optimistic? Compassionate? Confident? Let those characteristics shine through in the words you choose and the stories you tell.
- Stylistic preferences. In this section of your brand guide, you’ll specify the wording you’ll use to discuss your organization. For example, do you “help” individuals in your community or “partner with” them? Also, include any mechanical details you’d like to keep consistent in your communications, like whether you use the Oxford comma.
- Positioning. Positioning is what makes your nonprofit stand out from other similar organizations. What qualities make your nonprofit unique that could appeal to supporters?
Because your audience will inform your messaging, you’ll want to add details about them to your brand guide as well. Create a persona for each major supporter segment to put a face and name to audience members as you design branded content for them.
Visual brand elements are probably what comes to mind first when you hear the word “branding.” Some visuals to detail in your brand guide include:
- Colors. Include not only the names of the brand colors you choose, but also specific hex codes for each (for example, “light purple” could be #D1C4E9 or #C5CAE9) so you can always use the exact same shades.
- Fonts. To add visual variety, choose two brand fonts that complement each other: one for headings and another for body text. But avoid using more than three typefaces so your marketing materials don’t look cluttered.
- Logo. Use your brand colors and fonts to design a simple but memorable logo so supporters can immediately identify your nonprofit.
- Imagery. Any photos or graphics you use need to appeal to your audience and reflect well on your organization, so add some image guidelines and examples to your brand guide.
A final best practice for your nonprofit brand guide is to write out your mission statement on the first page. That way, you’ll center your mission in your branding and can always refer back to it to ensure the content you create aligns with the statement.
3. Brand Consistently Across Marketing Channels
The main purpose of your brand guide is to keep your brand consistent across your chosen marketing channels. As you develop your brand, consider how you’ll develop your strategy to incorporate the following platforms:
Consider how your chosen colors and fonts will look in print and digital formats to make sure all of these platforms are accounted for. Also, make sure your messaging strategies can apply to both short- and long-form content. For more complex brand elements, include a few design variations in your brand guide (for example, one logo with your organization’s full name and one with only your initials) so you can choose the one that fits best in each piece of content you create.
4. Know When It’s Time to Rebrand
As your nonprofit grows and time passes, you may find the branding decisions you originally made don’t quite work for your organization anymore. Fortunately, the solution many for-profit organizations use when encountering this issue—rebranding—also works for nonprofits.
If your organization decides to rebrand, here are a few helpful tips:
- Make the move at the right time, typically when you’ve noticed a significant shift in your audience or following a period of internal transition.
- Set clear expectations for the rebrand—you may just need to adjust your messaging strategy slightly in some cases, while you might change your entire visual brand in others.
- Update your brand guide over time—it’s most effective when treated as a living document.
- Invest in the right resources, like those on Double the Donation’s list of nonprofit graphic design tools, so you’ll be able to create new content quickly and easily.
Rebranding can be a challenging process for any organization, but it will also be very beneficial if you put in the time and effort.
Branding is essential for your nonprofit’s success and will be worth the work you put in to do it well. As you apply these best practices, don’t hesitate to consult nonprofit design experts to make your nonprofit’s brand the best it can be.
Author: Ryan Felix
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 Centred Design to increase meaningful conversions and design enjoyable web experiences.
Time for a branding or re-branding exercise? Dive into these additional resources before you get started:
- Nonprofit Awareness Campaigns: The Complete Guide – Want to increase brand awareness and educate your community about your nonprofit’s mission? Check out this guide to see if an awareness campaign is right for you.
- 6 Best Practices for Creating Evangelists for Your Cause – Find out how branding and messaging can make supporters feel engaged with your organization’s mission.
- A Mission Statement is Not a Brand – Building a Great Nonprofit Brand – Join Taylor Shanklin from Barlele for a brand-building workshop.
- 5 Things to Keep in Mind When Launching Your Virtual Campaign – Your brand is one thing to keep in mind for your next fundraising campaign. Read on for 4 other things to consider.