Why Your Nonprofit Needs Brand Guidelines—and How to Create Them
For an established organization (or even a new one), branding can start to become diluted over time, with marketing materials using multiple versions of logos, colors, and images that are not on-brand, and messaging that is not targeted or audience-focused. This is where brand guidelines can make a big impact.
Brand guidelines (also sometimes called brand standards, style guides, identity guides or graphic standards) provide a detailed overview of your organization’s branding—from the graphic look and feel to the overall voice and tone. It assures that everyone in your organization—as well as outside partners and vendors—are expressing your brand consistently and accurately.
Since many nonprofit leaders or managers handle most (if not all) marketing tasks internally, having strong brand guidelines can make marketing and promotion of your organization much easier as there is always a reference point. Plus, it keeps everyone inside and outside the organization on the same page (literally!) And most importantly, it allows you to focus on what you do best—sharing your mission and serving others.
Why your nonprofit needs brand guidelines
Consistency: It keeps your branding and marketing consistent across all print and online media.
Efficiency: When you have a reference point for your marketing pieces, you can create them more quickly and efficiently.
Professionalism: When all of your marketing materials are consistent and on-brand, it helps to emphasize your experience and competency
Convenience: When everything is in one place, it helps your partners and vendors (such as graphic designers, photographers, writers and print vendors) do their job faster and easier
Budget: When design elements and other brand-related files are easily accessible, projects can be completed faster and more economically.
Accuracy: When brand details are easily accessible, it helps to avoid costly mistakes such as using the wrong color or font on a printed piece.
Timing: When everything is in one place, necessary brand assets (i.e. logos or brand colors) can be easily accessed when needed and project delays can be avoided.
Onboarding: New employees (and vendors) can get to know your organization quickly and easily, so they can get to work faster. It also provides them a constant reference as they get acquainted with their new job and assures that they are sharing your message accurately.
What should be included in brand guidelines
A good set of brand guidelines will assure everything people see and experience related to your organization is an accurate expression of your brand. So, what should be included? Before getting started, think about how your organization will use the guidelines:
What types (and channels) of marketing do you use? (i.e. print, digital, social media, in-person events)
Will your in-house team mainly use them or will you share them with outside vendors?
If you work with outside vendors, what types of work do they produce? (i.e. brochures, flyers, advertising, email marketing, social media, video)
At the very least, the following should be included in brand guidelines:
Mission statement and vision statement: including verbiage about how they relate to your overall brand.
Logo usage: including sizing requirements, clear space (the space around the logo that separates it from other design elements), logotypes and icons, logo lockups (i.e. if the logo should always appear with another element such as a tagline, date or URL). It’s also a good to include misuse examples, for example: the logo should not be stretched disproportionately or used smaller than ¼”.
Taglines: including when and how to use the tagline, and where it should be placed in relation to the logo.
Fonts and typography: including allowable primary and secondary fonts for both print and online usage. Optionally, include examples and/or suggested usage for headlines and body copy.
Color palette: including primary and secondary color palettes for print (Pantone, CMYK) and digital or presentation (RGB, HEX) usage.
Imagery: including suggested types of photography and illustration that should be used, as well as when images should be used. May also include recommended website for purchasing stock photography or illustration and/or image guidelines for in-house or contracted photographers.
Depending on your organization’s needs, you may also want to include:
Voice and tone: including writing guidelines for print marketing, as well as digital marketing such as blogs and social media outlets.
Sample layouts: including commonly-used marketing templates such as business cards, stationery, flyers, print ads and social media posts.
Social media/content marketing guidelines: including an overview of how your brand will be expressed on social media or content marketing (if available, include an overview or links to the organization’s social media/content marketing strategy and editorial calendar)
Guest author guidelines: including guidelines for writers who will contribute articles to the organization’s website, blog or social media.
PR reference: including organization blurbs (several versions ranging from a 5-word blurb to several paragraphs), staff bios, headshots, and other materials that may be needed for PR opportunities. Include filenames and shared drive locations for easy access by all staff members and contractors.
Email signature: what should be included (logo, name, title, email, phone number, legal verbiage, other relevant links) as well as the specified format (text, HTML). Have a template handy on a shared drive to supply to new employees or contractors.
This may sound like a lot of work, but it can be as simple or complex as your organization needs. And enlisting the help of a branding designer can make it much easier. Believe me, it will all pay off in the end. As a designer, I know how frustrating it can be to search for logos, color specs, and other necessary design elements when working on a project.
Sometimes the best way to get started with brand guidelines is to see what others are doing. Here are a few resources:
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