Emily Friedrichs is the Communications and Content Marketing Manager at Elevation, a nonprofit digital services agency. She has been both volunteer and activist for organizations working on human rights, poverty elimination, non-violence, and cultural exchange. Emily has taught in underprivileged communities in New York and Buenos Aires. Her passions are community-building and behavioral psychology, and so she is excited to be working at their crossroads in nonprofit technology.
There are millions upon millions of brands, and more are started every day. How can your nonprofit maintain visibility among such a vast constellation of companies, businesses, and organizations?
This challenge is even greater for nonprofit brands than it is for-profit brands. Nonprofits often deal with complex issues that are difficult to express, summarize, and fully understand. This makes it hard for them to create a strong nonprofit design and branding that the public can easily distinguish from other nonprofit brands.
If your nonprofit is striving to build a brand with impact, this post shares 8 nonprofit branding strategies to help you foster trust, increase your brand visibility, and draw more supporters to your cause.
1. Establish a Unique Brand Identity
There are 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the USA alone. This makes strong nonprofit design essential for enabling your organization to stand out from the rest.
Researchers have established that there’s science behind brand recognition. Through their studies on brand loyalty, social psychologist Susan Fiske and business consultant Chris Malone found that people perceive brands just as they perceive other people. Their research explains why individuals develop loyalty towards, or distrust of, different brands. If you want to cultivate supporter loyalty, you need a strong and unique brand for your organization.
A lack of brand identity is a missed opportunity, and it carries some risk. An organization that gets mistaken for another can cause confusion, and confusion sows distrust. Even if the distinction is later clarified, your reputation has been burdened with the weight of unwanted associations.
In addition to setting you apart from the rest, a unique brand identity allows you to get a loyal following, ensuring the longevity of your nonprofit. Start by identifying your brand characteristics, as discussed below.
2. Articulate Your Brand Characteristics
Brand characteristics are important to developing the authenticity of your organization. They describe how your nonprofit is perceived by the general public. Your brand characteristics describe who you are, what you are trying to achieve, how you are planning to achieve it, and your core values.
You can communicate your brand characteristics through three things:
- Your mission – explains how you will achieve your vision.
- Your vision – describes the idealistic future your organization is working towards.
- Your values – drive your organization and guide your progress.
3. Craft a Short and Sweet Mission Statement
A mission statement describes your unique purpose. It communicates what value your organization delivers, to whom, and how it does so. It motivates supporters and staff.
Apart from strengthening your brand, a compelling mission statement also:
- Establishes the direction of your nonprofit
- Shapes the strategy and decision-making of your nonprofit
- Welcomes and provides a structure for change and evolution to your nonprofit
Generally, your mission statement should be 15 words or less. The challenge is to make those 15 words convey all of the following:
- Why your organization exists
- Whom it serves
- How it serves them
Nonprofit branding can sometimes devolve into a mess of values, objectives, aspirations, strategies, descriptions and philosophies. The most common mistake people make is confusing their mission statement with their vision statement. A simple way to distinguish them is to think of a vision statement as what you see when you close your eyes and visualize what the world would look like if you achieve your objectives, but not the steps you need to take to get there. Find more advice for crafting a strong mission statement, below.
Tips for writing the perfect mission statement
Are you wondering where to start when writing a mission statement? When writing your mission statement, be sure to:
- Make it clear and concise
- Make it informative
- Schedule regular reviews
- Ask for input from others
To maximize your mission statement’s impact, you’ll want to come up with a list of brand characteristics first, and then craft your mission statement around them. By doing so, your mission statement will truly communicate your core values and unique purpose.
For more detailed information on writing mission statements, see the library of additional resources at the end of this article.
4. Curate Your Color Palette
The colors you choose for your nonprofit have a huge impact on your audience’s first impression. According to studies, color also increases brand recognition by up to 80%.
Colors are known to invoke different feelings and thoughts, so you should select your brand colors intentionally and not due to personal preference. There are two color types that you’ll need to consider:
- Primary colors – these are the main colors of your brand. They are used in all publications, graphics, and signage.
- Secondary colors – these colors are used to complement or to accent the primary colors. A useful tip while selecting secondary colors is to go for colors in the same tonal range as the primary colors.
For examples of where and how to use primary vs secondary colors, download our branding guide.
5. Choose Clear and Consistent Typography
To convey information in a clear manner to your target audience, you should use consistent typography. A good strategy is to establish font choices for your materials. This can help you to maintain a consistent brand identity, and consistency is one of the unconscious measures of trustworthiness.
All font choices should be easy to read. Cursive fonts and those that look like handwriting may cause people to squint or have to reread text, thus negatively impacting their interaction with you.
Just like colors, there are two aspects of fonts that you need to specify. They are:
- Primary fonts – These fonts are used for your headings, content, and CTAs.
- Secondary fonts – These are used in areas such as factoids, addresses, and subheaders.
Many nonprofits choose to combine color, typography, and logo guidelines into a single branding guide. Here are a few real examples from other nonprofits.
6. Design an Outstanding Logo
Although your brand is reflected in much more than just its visual identity, your logo is the centerpiece of your nonprofit’s brand. It is one of the first things that come to mind when people think about you.
An impactful logo will be tied to your mission and vision, so you should have these defined before you start designing a logo. By doing this work before you design your logo, you will be able to come up with colors, words, images, and symbols that best transmit your message to the public.
If you’re wondering whether your current logo is an asset (or a detriment!) to your organization, here are 6 questions for assessing your nonprofit logo.
7. Invest in High-Quality Photography
You can use stock photography if done correctly. But, no matter your budget, each picture will be worth a thousand words. Careful image selection will help you to tell your story in a way that leaves a lasting impression.
As you start building a bank of images you can use on your website, your social media channels, and other outlets, there are a few things to think through. You’ll want to consider whether the photos will be formal or informal, who is represented in them, and how the subject is being depicted to the viewer. Consider each of these factors in order to make a great impression on your audience and clearly communicate your message.
8. Maintain Transparency Across the Board
A nonprofit organization cannot operate if it does not have the trust of its community. Credibility grows with transparency, and your organization should make an extra effort to ensure that information is clear and readily accessible to the public. More than 90% of Americans believe that organizations should reveal how they are supporting causes, but only 58% believe they are providing adequate details.
To demonstrate transparency, you’ll need to make financial information easily accessible and regularly update impact reports, press releases, and board and staff profiles. If you would like to create a website that presents all the details in a manner that is easy to access, check out our webinar with Qgiv about building your credibility online.
Use a Branding Library to Build a Strong Brand
Although branding helps nonprofits achieve various goals: from greater social impact to improved organizational cohesion to increasing donations, the importance of branding for increasing your nonprofit’s efficacy is clear.
We’ve compiled these resources and more into a free library to help you complete all elements of a strong brand. These detailed references will help you to create a strong brand and ensure consistency in your nonprofit’s look, feel, and messaging.
Visit the Nonprofit Branding Library today to increase your brand’s impact!
We value relationships and are proud to connect nonprofits to our partner network and hope this helps increase your nonprofit’s effectiveness and success. We proudly partner with Elevation, a full-service digital agency created for nonprofit organizations and the social sector.