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9 Components of a Nonprofit Brand Book (Style Guide)

branding fundraising nonprofit Feb 28, 2020

Let’s do a quick exercise. When you see the Disney logo, what do you think of? What about Apple’s apple? McDonald’s arches? Coca-Cola’s wave?

Chances are, you have formed some memory or emotion (good or bad) towards the thought of any of these logos or brands. Branding is powerful. It’s an intangible asset of your nonprofit that goes well beyond a logo. It creates a reputation that has the ability to impact your donors for a lifetime. This is why the characteristics that your brand embodies must remain consistent overtime. Donors can count on this consistency, which equates to trust.

I recently posted articles about how to establish your nonprofit's brand and also provided 8 examples of nonprofit brand books. These are great resources to see finished versions of what every nonprofit should have, which is documentation of your brand standards. When it comes to creating a brand book, consider using the following nine components as an outline of items that you’ll want to include.

1. Introduction/Purpose

In this brief section, you’ll want to basically introduce the brand book and state why you are creating it, who it is for, and how to use it.

2. Corporate Identity

This section documents your company’s vision, mission, and values. It’s important that this section comes first because every piece of your brand will need to embody these elements of your corporate identity. As you create different assets of your brand, you will review this section to determine whether that asset falls in line with your vision, mission, and standards. Documenting your corporate identity upfront helps you to say “yes” and “no” to other aspects of what will be included in your brand book.

3. Style and Tone

The verbal and written communication of your brand help to shape its personality. It should be consistent across marketing communication channels. For example, when you see the TV commercials for SPCA about animal cruelty and becoming a monthly donor, there is somewhat of a somber tone. If its emails or direct mail pieces were upbeat and happy, then that would conflict with the style and tone of the TV commercial. Likewise, how you communicate on your website, emails, direct mail, and video content should have a consistent style and tone. This helps to build authenticity and credibility of your brand.

4. Logo and Tagline

The most recognizable asset of your brand is its logo. For the company examples I gave above (Disney, Apple, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola), it’s likely the first thing that comes to mind for you is the logo of each. I equate it to the face of a human being. When you think of people in your life, likely the first thing you think of is his or her face. Then you might think about his or her other physical features, voice tone, or personality. Quick test on this. Think of your first grade teacher. Is the first thing that comes to mind his or her face? It’s the same with your logo when it comes to your overall brand. It is the most memorable impression you will make that will remain on the donor’s minds.

5. Typography

Most nonprofits understand the importance of a logo, but not as many pay attention to using consistent font styles. It’s ok for font styles to vary between what is used on web versus what is used in direct mail; however, the variations shouldn’t be drastic, nor should there be a different font used every time an email or direct mail piece goes out. If there’s one thing that you’re probably picking up on so far in this article, it’s that consistency is crucial. Just as food, clothing and shelter are necessities of humans, consistency is a necessity of your brand.

6. Colors

The colors that your nonprofit uses should have more meaning than just being colors that were picked because they are your favorite colors. What do your organization’s colors mean to the organization? Think about a country’s flag. Each color usually represents something of value to that country, it wasn’t just some color that was randomly selected. This should be the case for your brand as well. Select colors that matter to your brand. Also, you may have 2–3 colors that are considered your primary colors, which may appear in your logo or other regularly used graphic elements of your brand. You may also have a set of secondary colors that are used when contextually appropriate, such as a website or marketing piece with several graphic elements. Still, you’ll want to limit the overall use of colors used so that you don’t dilute your brand’s aesthetics.

7. Photography

Photography is an often overlooked brand asset when it comes to setting standards. An organization that does this right is charity:water. When you look at their website and other communications, you can see the look and feel of photography is similar across channels. It may seem like a no-brainer, but you should avoid stock photography as much as possible. If you haven’t established your brand’s photography standards, then you may need to reference a style of photography (even if it’s stock) in order to display the look and feel of the type of photography that is acceptable. This section of your brand book may also include examples of photography that are unacceptable.

8. Other Brand Uses

This section of your brand book may list or give examples of other uses of your brand such as email signatures, letterhead, business cards, PowerPoint templates, and more. This helps to document other internal and external use cases of your brand. As an example, without documenting a standard for email signatures, every person in your organization may have a different version of email signature, which disrupts brand consistency.

9. Brand Contact

The last section of your brand book is probably the easiest to complete. It simply lists the person that anyone internally or externally should contact if they have questions about the brand standards or uses. All you need here is the person’s name, phone number, title, and email address. Simple, right?

Once you have all of these components documented, you can take the presentation of your brand book to the next level by having a graphic designer create your brand book with the contents that you included above. Further, as you share your brand book internally, share it as a PDF file rather than a PowerPoint or Word document. This will help to keep other people from editing the document, preserving control over the correct version of your brand book.

As a help, I’ve created a brand book template that includes all of these nine items above (along with directions). You can quickly download it and get started on your brand book by joining my online community, Fundraisers Unite. Once you join, visit the Templates section to find the template. Enjoy!

Learn more about Fundraisers Unite here.


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