4 Tips for Creating a Nonprofit Brand That Lasts

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Guest Post By: Carl Diesing, Managing Director, DNL OmniMedia

Over the past two years, nonprofit organizations have been in survival mode— working to salvage fundraising events, overcome revenue declines, and meet a greater need across their constituencies. Working in a chaotic environment is challenging. So it’s understandable if some of the foundational elements of your organization, such as your brand, fell to the wayside.

However, your nonprofit’s brand is one of your strongest assets when it comes to raising funds, growing your organization, and advancing your mission. As we move forward in the a world changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s worthwhile to revisit your brand to ensure you’re working from a strong foundation going forward.

In this guide, we’ll cover the following tips for creating (or revitalizing) your nonprofit brand so that it can stand the test of time:

  • Create nonprofit branding guidelines.
  • Reflect your brand in your marketing strategy.
  • Carry your brand through your organizational culture.
  • Work with a nonprofit marketing consultant.

Before you can create your nonprofit’s branding, you first need to understand the story you want to convey with that brand. This guide won’t cover that step in the process— but, if you’d like to learn more, review DNL OmniMedia’s guide to nonprofit storytelling.

With that, let’s get started.

Create nonprofit branding guidelines.

Your brand is the public-facing view of your nonprofit’s story. A lack of cohesion between your brand and your story creates dissonance for supporters, who may doubt the legitimacy and trustworthiness of your organization as a result. Your logos, color scheme, and core messaging should align with the story behind your organization’s mission.

Consider the following aspects when developing your nonprofit’s brand:

  • Positioning: This includes the audience you serve and your organization’s mission statement. Your mission statement is one to two straightforward sentences that discuss who your nonprofit is, what you’re doing, and why. If you have any additional key messaging, such as a tagline, include that here. Additionally, consider addressing your nonprofit’s brand personality— are you formal and serious, upbeat and bright, or something in between?
  • Color Palette: Choose three to five colors to serve as your primary color palette, three to five colors for your secondary palette, and optional tertiary colors. Aim to include both accent colors (red, yellow, blue) and neutrals (black, grey, white, brown). Identify the  HEX code for each color so they can be replicated exactly.
  • Logo Families: This includes your main logo and any iterations relating to how it will appear on different types of media. Consider how your logo will appear on both digital media (social media, email, website, etc.) and physical media (printed mailings and brochures, signage, merchandise, etc.) Your logo should be eye-catching, but not “trendy.” Trends tend to go in and out of style quickly, so it’s much more worthwhile to create a well-designed, evergreen logo. 
  • Photography and Videography: Consider the extent to which you’ll use photography and videography in your branding, especially when it involves showing your constituents. How will you protect the privacy of and ensure all are depicted with dignity and respect?
  • Grammar, Style, and Naming Conventions: This includes any specific phrasing, such as if you refer to “donors” as “champions” or “givers.” This also includes any abbreviations you may use and the names of specific programs within your organization.

Assemble these elements into nonprofit branding guidelines— a single resource that’s shared around your team and externally for ongoing use. These guidelines will make it easy for team members to carry your branding across various aspects of your organization, from their communications with supporters to planning virtual events.

Reference the template below, pulled from DNL OmniMedia’s guide to nonprofit branding, to begin creating your brand guidelines:

You want to continually be expanding your brand’s reach. Design your nonprofit’s brand in a way that’s timeless and not likely to be dated anytime soon. The goal should be to never need to change or update your brand going forward, but instead maintain the same familiar external face for generations to come.

Reflect your brand in your marketing strategy.

It’s especially crucial to consider your nonprofit branding strategy in light of your marketing efforts. Because most organizations use an omnichannel approach, meaning they layer multiple channels (ex: direct mail, social media, email, website) when marketing to their audiences, many supporters will see various messages corresponding to a specific campaign before they convert. If there is branding dissonance between your various marketing channels, it will create a less memorable impression on supporters and decrease the likelihood of conversion.

Keep the following tips in mind to carry your brand throughout your multichannel marketing strategy:

  • Perfect your website’s landing pages first. Often with communications, you’ll be directing supporters to a specific page on your nonprofit’s website to complete a desired action (donating, registering for an event, etc.). Before you begin sending marketing communications, make sure your nonprofit’s branding is consistent on your conversion pages first.
  • Align key phrasing and topics across your various channels. Aim to have your channels complement each other rather than create a repetitive echo chamber. Don’t include the same key phrases and messaging on each channel. Instead, get creative with your branding to share slightly different variations. For example, share a quick overview of your upcoming campaign with a catchy slogan on social media. Then, write a long-form blog post that takes a deep dive into a constituent’s story and how it relates to your campaign.

Depending on the size of your marketing efforts, you could have multiple team members managing your various marketing channels. They should meet regularly to sync on how your brand is being represented in your marketing efforts. 

Carry your nonprofit’s brand through your organizational culture.

Beyond marketing efforts, your brand is found in your organizational culture, including interactions with individual supporters, interactions with the public at large, your board members’ reputations, and even your public stance on key social issues.

If your organizational culture doesn’t align with the narrative you’re building about your nonprofit, you risk coming across as disingenuous. Consider the following ways to reflect your nonprofit’s brand in your organizational culture:

  • Interactions with supporters. This includes creating a positive, impactful volunteer experience and treating all donors, both small and major, with respect. 
  • Employment considerations. High employee turnover and low morale will quickly build a negative reputation for your organization. Create a culture where employees are rewarded for their hard work while also not overworked to the point of burnout. 
  • Reputations of public personas. Ensure that you’re only bringing in executive leadership and board members who align with your mission both in the workplace and outside of it. When leaders behave in a way that’s incompatible with your nonprofit’s mission, it can paint your entire organization in a bad light.
  • Fundraising campaigns. This includes the sponsors you partner with for a campaign, the level of grandiosity of any events themselves, and how the funds raised are used after the campaign concludes.

Consider the following example of how a nonprofit could reflect its brand in its overall culture and make your brand memorable. Organization X is dedicated to a more sustainable, green future. It reflects its brand by:

  • Conducting virtual volunteer training sessions to reduce travel emissions.
  • Paying all employees a livable wage and providing incentives for sustainable living, such as a free public transportation pass.
  • Bringing in board members who are on the front lines of sustainability, inventing technology that actively combats climate change.
  • Prioritizing sustainability in events, including removing all single-use plastics and hiring event entertainers that are outspoken about ensuring a greener future.

While marketing is a strong way to tell supporters about your brand, your organizational culture shows supporters that you’re legitimate. If your organizational culture doesn’t align with the story of your nonprofit, that means it’s time for a major change to either your atmosphere or your branding.

Work with a nonprofit marketing consultant.

Your nonprofit’s brand touches every aspect of your operations. Not only do you need to create a timeless brand, but also carefully coordinate your outreach and culture to ensure that the brand is carried cohesively across your efforts.

A nonprofit marketing consultant can offer a variety of services to help your team do so, including:

  • Marketing services, including copywriting, content management, and print and web design.
  • Fundraising services, ensuring that your programming aligns with your nonprofit’s brand.
  • Technology services, such as designing and developing platforms (including mobile apps) that are branded to your organization.

One of the biggest benefits of working with a nonprofit marketing consultant is their third-party, unbiased view of your organization. While your team may feel attached to your current brand, your consultant won’t be. They can evaluate your strategy and provide honest feedback about what needs to be improved to elevate your organization as a whole.

Your nonprofit’s brand builds credibility and recognition for your organization, but only if it’s created to last any challenges that come your way.

By creating branding guidelines, you’ll be able to successfully carry your brand through both your marketing efforts and overall organizational culture. And, you can work with a nonprofit marketing consultant if you’re seeking an unbiased, third-party view.

About the Author:

Carl Diesing, Managing Director – Carl co-founded DNL OmniMedia in 2006 and has grown the team to accommodate clients with on-going web development projects. Together DNL OmniMedia has worked with over 100 organizations to assist them with accomplishing their online goals. As Managing Director of DNL OmniMedia, Carl works with nonprofits and their technology to foster fundraising, create awareness, cure disease, and solve social issues. Carl lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their two children Charlie and Evelyn.

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