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012 – Non-Profit Brand Guides: Why It Matters And How To Create Your Own

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In this episode David talks about why branding is important for your charity and non-profit, and how to easily go about creating a comprehensive Brand Guide Manual for your organization.

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Everyone knows Tim Horton’s red-and-white font. The same goes for Target with their red and white circular logo – even though they were only in Canada for a short while. Both of them have branding that is distinctive enough that you may also instinctively trust them: you know them, and they’re familiar, so you might be more likely to pick something with their brand than one you’ve never heard of.

In this episode of the Non-Profit Digital Success Podcast I’m going to answer the question “Why do Brand Guidelines matter for non-profits?”. I’m also going to walk through what you can do to create and design your own Brand Guideline Manual.

A brand guide is a document that captures the look and feel of your organization.

It has a set of guidelines and standards for how your brand should be used. It ensures consistency in every aspect of the brand, from messaging and communications to the product or service and everything in between.

Here are the top three reasons why a brand guide matters for non-profits:

  1. Brand guides help non-profits be consistent
  2. Brand guides reduce the cost of branding
  3. Brand guides help you stay on message

Non-profit branding can be especially tricky since they are often tied to a cause or mission. That’s why a brand guide can be helpful for non-profit organizations. In today’s podcast, I’ll review the benefits of a brand guide and provide a step-by-step guide to design your own.

Steps To Creating a Brand Style Guide

For all the brands that are super-popular or well-known, there are a million others that are practically invisible, completely off the grid. These are the brands that are in your local stores, small businesses that you likely don’t even know exist. To take advantage of this opportunity to market your brand, build a custom Brand Style Guide. Not only can you reach a much wider audience, but you can personalize your marketing efforts in ways you never thought possible.

The goal, here, is to create a custom guide that will speak directly to your audience’s needs.

What is a brand?

The answer is different for every organization. Sometimes, a brand is all about the “truth” behind it–the claims it makes, the people that work for it, and so on. But sometimes, the best brands simply do a better job than other organization in communicating what they do, and who they are. There’s a lot of organizations that do a good job at being brands, but a brand is not just a way to help people understand what they’re about. It’s a description of who they are. It’s an intent to make people care, and take action, in one way or another.

It’s how the public, your employees, your volunteers and definitely your donors, and let’s not forget about the government, identify how they associate with your non-profit and charity –it’s about your values, aesthetic, as well as the things that your brand says to them and to yourself.

Think of it as the way your brand communicates to the world.

Brands are the most important thing about an organization, but they’re also the most complex thing to build, because the things that define a brand are not only the things it does but also the things it never does. A brand isn’t a thing that has some characteristics, it’s an abstract idea with a huge number of variations. And it’s based on things that we don’t even notice or recognize, because we don’t think of brands that way.

What is a brand guide and why do we need one?

For the public, trust is based on a brand’s efficacy as well as its style and marketing tactics. Brand guides help organizations develop their look and feel within the communities they serve and the donors they’re going after.

Without a brand guide, your non-profit and charity’s brand may suffer. Not only does a poor branding strategy reduce the amount of awareness your non-profit can gain from a single donor, it may also limit the amount of innovation and outreach you can accomplish.

It’s important to note that while consumers rely on brands for both marketing and sales, for non-profits, the solution has to be more holistic, as their sales and marketing often aren’t part of their core product or service. In order to create a brand guide that appeals to the needs of non-profits, it’s important to provide a clear and concise guide that can be applied to different departments and on different products and services.

A brand guide is the guiding hand of a brand. It speaks to you what your organization is about, how you want it to be perceived, what your attributes are, then puts all those values into a hierarchy.

This is not a boring marketing document; it’s a page-turner. Here’s how to create one of your own for your non-profit. Give it a title. Get an inspiration and browse logo, brand, website, etc. type inspiration. Do you like the brand’s colors? Need to tie the branding of your non-profit to your mission and vision? What are you trying to communicate through your brand? What kinds of things should your non-profit stand for? How is your brand doing on these? Do you know what your consumers want? And what makes them choose your non-profit over others? Start with brand attributes.

What Is The Importance of Brand Guides for Charities?

By following the method I’m going to outline, branding can be easy. It’s can be so easy, in fact, that brands with powerful, recognizable logos can often seem a little sterile. Brands often find themselves depending on their logos in such a way that they become generic–blending into the background, becoming background noise–and this tends to dilute brand equity and status.

For those organizations without quite so familiar a brand as Tim Horton’s, HBC, Target or Apple, though, positioning their brand is a lot harder. Brands without simple, obvious, universal symbols can become generic, and this often means that people can’t easily tell which brand they’re supporting.

We all want prospective donors to know who we are and what our non-profit stands for. Right?

Getting Started

Creating a brand can be complicated for small non-profits and even businesses, especially when they don’t have the money to hire an experienced agency. And even when they do, they’re busy — maybe working for an organization of thousands, or maybe just running their business.

The reality is that many non-profits don’t have the time or resources to put together a polished design. For those that do, it can be a cumbersome and tedious process: they have to maintain a brand’s integrity while simultaneously promoting it and protecting it. But you can start with a foundation of visual clarity.

There are a lot of resources on branding for non-profits, but there isn’t one easy and obvious one. Most have a lot of moving parts. This podcast, however, has been created to serve as a guide for non-profits to consider their brand, and iterate it based on their needs.

The basics of a Brand Guide includes:

Background, such as answering the questions do you have a good story? What’s the big idea that defines your brand? What is your position?

At bare minimum, it must include your logo, what it looks like, where it’s used, and how should it be placed in your non-profit publications and website.

Also, be sure to include basic branding concepts and why they matter, such as things like color, typography, font, tone of voice.

The Brand Guide Process

So how does your non-profit brand look right now? Do you have a logo? A tagline? A call to action? What’s the story you’re trying to tell?

Depending on how long your organization has been established, all of these pieces may have changed over the years, but how have you connected with the public? When your organization was founded, did you meet with the fundraising committee to make your goals and objectives clear? Did you create an outline of the mission and vision, for instance? Were there community outreach programs or projects that you knew you wanted to offer, and that you were excited about? Did you attend conferences or community meetings and engage with local businesses and civic leaders?

These are the things that define who you are and what you do. And they need to be consistent across all of your channels.

The Brand Guide Process has two parts. The first part is the conversation, where you identify and prioritize your brand’s elements (with a couple requirements). Then, you create an identity document that you can send to departments, fundraising teams, vendors who work with your organization, and in turn, everyone uses it as the basis for your brand mark.

The Process in Detail

To design your own Brand Guideline, I’m going to presume you’re a new or early-stage non-profit organization, or at least a well-established one that has recently gotten a fair amount of media attention, or is about to.

In a case where you’re working in an organization with existing “brand guides” that you can point to as inspiration, or you know enough about your non-profit to figure out what existing brand guides you need – my suggestion on a great approach will be to take that information and distill it to the four-page rule, which lays out what you need to do, step-by-step, to put a memorable brand on the map.

Create a brand brief. Identify what your audience wants and needs. Focus on those core points, and design around them.

Create a list of attributes for your brand. One or two adjectives? Two or three?

If you work at an organization where there are lots of files, publications, graphics, and other marketing collateral produced, even internal signage like digital screens, flyers in the elevators, pamphlets in waiting rooms, collect as many as you can. These will help you identify all the ways your brand is currently being used and seen both internally and externally of your organization. find your vector versions of your logos – colour, solid black, and solid white are most often the versions that organizations have.

Use Google Slides or PowerPoint, and start creating your guide.

Here are the sections we typically include for Brand Guides we create for our client’s at Wow Digital.

  • Cover
  • Brand history and introduction
  • Brand concept
  • Logo variations (EN, FR, EN/FR, sub-brands)
  • Logo acceptable use (clear space, on solid colours, on images, with other brands)
  • Brand colours (primary, secondary, tertiary, CMYK, RGB, and HEX values, and any potential variations for different mediums – you may want to adjust a colour for web versus print)
  • Typography (primary and secondary fonts)
  • Marketing assets and collateral
  • Contact info

Creating a Brand Identity

The problem with brands is that they’re often built around strong, recognizable symbols. A brand goes beyond the logo and includes something that you say about a service or an organization. This means that people will likely associate your organization with a brand, even if they’re not aware of it. Non-profits have a problem that has been called “brand fragmentation.” Every organization’s brand is unique, but you need to make sure that the community you serve can find your non-profit on Google, so that they know where to find you.

Some of the most-used keywords that organizations include when they’re promoting themselves are: their name, main related words to the service they provide, website, phone number, etc.

Promote the Brand

Start by writing your own content that promotes your brand and speaks your values, but also that serves the needs and wants of your potential supporters.

Does your organization have a purpose or mission statement? Does it already have a logo? Is there a clear, succinct call to action that goes with your logo? Is your logo helping people make progress on a goal or goal that you care about?

The great thing about non-profits is that they can be both visually consistent and distinctive, so they tend to be easier to position visually. Additionally, a lot of the “rules” that govern branding for companies apply for non-profits, as they are often designed for different audiences.

One of the things we see at Wow Digital is that quite often departments and staff have modified the corporate brand to suit their needs without discussing. It can be hard to reign that in. The message needs to involve all levels of management and must come from the top-down to be successful.


In the end, this episode is about building brand equity–how to make sure your non-profit has a good name and not lose market share quickly to your competitors. Small charities and non-profits shouldn’t be at a disadvantage to larger organizations when it comes to branding–it’s all about marketing and differentiation.

Don’t rely on just one tool when designing your brand; make it a combination of several.

It’s true that your logo is one the most important tool in your marketing arsenal. But it’s also the colours, tone, style, font and visual sense that makes your brand memorable. In combination, and rolled-out with everyone on-board, you can take control and own your share of the non-profit market. Having a unified and clear brand will also help your organization look cohesive, and thus professional.

If you need help with your brand, or even creating a Brand Guide, reach out. Together, we’ll help your organization reach new heights.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and I’m looking forward to having you listen to the next ones that we’ve got coming up. If you’ve enjoyed this episode please leave feedback on iTunes or wherever you listen to this podcast, I’d love to hear your feedback and it would also help others find the show.

Be sure to check out the show notes for the episode, head over to wowdigital.com, click on podcast, and search for this episode number and you’ll find all the links, details, and other information that has been discussed in this episode.

Are there any other topics that you would like to hear about? Just send an email to [email protected]. Thanks for listening to the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast!

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