Nonprofit Branding Tips: Why Your Nonprofit Needs Brand Standards and a Style Guide

October 13, 2022

3 minutes

If you’re like most nonprofit leaders, you are constantly looking for ways to strengthen your organization’s brand. You know that a strong brand is essential to attracting donors, volunteers, and other supporters. But are you sure you’re doing everything possible to build a strong brand?

How you present yourself to the world matters. This is true for people, businesses, and nonprofits. Actually, some might say that effective nonprofit branding is critical to your organization’s success.
Many nonprofit leaders and board members are unaware of the important role that branding plays in the success of their organization. In fact, many nonprofits don’t even have brand standards or a style guide.

This can lead to confusion among donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders. Without clear branding guidelines, your nonprofit might not be projecting the right message to the public and could be missing out on potential opportunities.

Branding always makes an impression; sometimes, that impression is positive and other times, negative. How you come across to stakeholders via your website, social media channels, and marketing materials significantly influences whether or not donors give, volunteers help out, and supporters spread the word about your organization.

While the stakes are high, there are simple and straightforward ways to ensure that your nonprofit branding is on point. In this blog post, we will explain why brand standards and a style guide will do the majority of the work for you and offer additional nonprofit branding tips to help your marketing efforts yield big results.

Brand Standards and Style Guides: What’s the Difference?

Nonprofit leaders often want to know the difference between brand standards and a style guide. In many cases, people use these terms interchangeably. For the sake of this discussion, here’s a simple way to think about it: brand standards protect your nonprofit brand from misuse, and a brand style guide promotes consistency in how representatives of your organization may implement or use your nonprofit brand.
We recommend all nonprofits hold to both brand standards and a style guide. People often interpret brand standards as a set of ideals, guidelines, or canon regarding how the organization should be portrayed in the public eye. Think of it like “this is what it means to be a part of this organization,” or “these are the values we adhere to,” that sort of thing.

With brand standards in place, a style guide defines specifics relative to how the logo, colors, fonts, look, and feel of your nonprofit should be applied to various communications and marketing materials. In terms of messaging, brand standards address what you do and do not say about your organization while the style guide addresses how you say it.

Clearly it can get a bit tricky to delineate the two, and it’s not unusual for beginners to get the terms confused. But as you can see, brand standards address the rules protecting brand integrity while the style guide addresses how the brand is used or applied in context.

What to Include in Nonprofit Brand Standards and Style Guide

All things considered, some nonprofits will combine brand standards into the style guide to form one complete document. Depending on the age and size of your organization, this may be a better choice for you.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to do this. The important thing is that you actually create brand standards and a style guide and implement them to protect and grow your brand.

We’ve written two previous blogs on these topics you will want to read for a more in-depth discussion:

  1. What’s a Style Guide and Why You Need One
  2. How to Create a Style Guide for Your Business or Nonprofit

But generally speaking, most brand standards and style guides include some combination of the following:

  • Your nonprofit organization’s registered name
  • Your tagline
  • Your logo design
  • Guidelines for using your logo
  • Secondary logo mark designs
  • Official colors with hex and RGB values
  • Fonts and how to use them
  • Image guidelines
  • Printing specifications
  • Social media profile photos and cover photos
  • Web page layout specifications
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) guidelines
  • Messaging guidelines, including mission, vision, value propositions, key messages, and elevator pitch
  • Those are the basics. If you want to provide more specific guidance, consider including instructions regarding the use of boilerplates and legal disclaimers, voice and tone recommendations, writing style conventions, grammar and usage rules, and examples of approved collateral templates.

Nonprofit Branding Tips for Implementing Your Brand Standards and Style Guide

1. Train Your People

Once your nonprofit brand standards and the style guide are complete, you have the opportunity to train your board members, staff, and volunteers on how to use them.  This is where most organizations drop the ball. They work so hard to create standards and a style guide, and no one uses them. Nine times out of ten, the problem lies with training.

Here’s a pro tip, especially if you lead a medium to large-sized nonprofit, create a steering committee to speak into the process as you’re developing the brand standards and style guide. Get input from your internal stakeholders as you go rather than wait until your work is complete. This will create a sense of buy-in that will significantly enhance your training efforts.

2. Appoint an Owner

If lack of training is the number one reason brand standards and style guides fail, lack of ownership is number two. Someone in your organization must own this process in order for it to function as intended. This individual should not only be assigned ownership but empowered with both responsibility and authority to enforce the standards and style guide.

And a word to executive directors and board members: if you’re doing this for the first time, expect it to take a while. If you go from no standards to a buttoned-up process overnight your teams will need time to adjust. Do your process owner a favor and position them as a guide and brand champion of sorts to lead the organization toward greater impact rather than a rule keeper. Let them (and everyone else) know that you have their back.

3. Audit and Review

Ensure that your website, social media, and other collateral are aligned. After all, the entire purpose of this exercise is to present a unified impression on the people you’re working to reach with your message. Go through every touch point with external stakeholders and ensure that everything you’re putting out there is in agreement with the standards and style you’ve set forth in your guide.

Depending on your size, this can take some time and you may need help getting over the hump. If that is the case, consider reaching out to a marketing agency with experience in this area. Our team has worked with numerous nonprofits on branding design and implementation and we’d love to help you audit, review, and implement your brand standards and style guide with great effect.

On the other hand, perhaps you’re not ready to create and implement standards or a style guide because you need help with the rebranding of your organization. If this is the case, please reach out to us to schedule a meeting. We would love to learn more about your story, your goals, and how we can help you impact more people with your message.

In the meantime, if your nonprofit is due for a rebrand, take a look at the following blog posts and let us know how we can help.

5 Reasons Why You Should Not Neglect Rebranding a Nonprofit
10 Reasons Why You Need a Rebranding Strategy

Cross & Crown

About Cross & Crown

Cross & Crown is a team of creatives who are passionate about solving problems through design and technology, taking what is there and making it better. Based in Chambersburg, PA, we strive to help educate, advocate, and thrive in a digital world.

Our Culture

We drive results for work that matters.