Brand recognition is important for many reasons — but chief among those is fundraising. If your appeal arrives at a potential donor’s door, they are more likely to open, read and make a contribution if your brand is already familiar to them as an initial marker of legitimacy. Importantly, this goes beyond an organization’s name. For example, when you hear about a large, name-brand nonprofit like The Salvation Army, you are likely to also see their signature red color in your mind, the highly recognizable Trajan script splashed across a shield logo and red bells around the holidays. You may even hear those bells ringing in your ears, calling you to make a gift!

But no matter the size or market saturation of your organization, creating a clear brand identity is essential to building lasting relationships with your donors and other constituents. People perceive brands in the same way they perceive people — so you should have a consistent “face” through your logo, colors and visual/verbal tone that shows throughout your communications.

That’s why creating a brand guide that can be freely available across your organization is so important. This book will help to ensure that everyone on your team — including the communications and fundraising teams, but also others — is on the same page about how to represent the organization to external audiences.

Creating a brand guide takes a bit of leg work, but if you include the core components below, you are heading in the right direction. The process can even be fun and encourage team-building, pulling together staff across all departments to contribute their insights.

First Define Your Personality, Character and Values

As noted above, people will perceive your brand like they do other people. And, just like a person, they will assign a certain personality to your organization that reflects human characteristics. This will help them better understand how to relate and to connect to you. Defining this from the start will also help you determine how you want to represent yourself to encourage an emotional, consistent connection between the organization and its audience.

In considering the character of your organization, it is helpful to take a trip into psychology and consider where you fit among Carl Jung’s set of 12 archetypes. These have been identified as the core group of recognizable personality types that people readily categorize individuals — and brands! — into. The image below from AdWeek showcases these 12 archetypes.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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Source: AdWeek

Placing yourself into one of these familiar archetypes means that you will be easily understood by a broad audience, and it will also help to provide structure to the subsequent pieces of your branding discussed below.

Components of Your Verbal Identity

The elements above are important to defining how you will communicate, which you should then segment further into the following components:

  1. Brand Positioning. Your positioning helps to set the story you are looking to tell through your brand. It is typically written from an outside-in perspective, representing the “big idea” that your organization should express to an external audience. Ask yourself what you most want to be known for when a person hears your name! For example, the brand positioning for Walt Disney World is: For the young and young-at-heart, Walt Disney World is the theme park that best delivers on an immersive and magical experience because Walt Disney World, and only Walt Disney World, connects you to the characters and worlds you most desire. This statement helps to define a core audience as well as the promise that Walt Disney World both makes and delivers on for that group.
  2. Mission and Vision. These are of course foundational to your organization! The important differentiation here is to see your mission as representative of the work that is being done by your organization, while the vision is the long-term goal of the better world that you are working towards. While your mission can be very concrete, the vision is aspirational and inspiring.
  3. Tone. How do you want to speak to your audience? If you are inside a think tank or working as an advocate on Capitol Hill, the language may be more formal and geared at establishing expertise, whereas a children’s camp may be more playful and casual. Go back to your brand character and personality — if you were that person, how might you be talking to external audiences? You may consider including keywords that connect to your values and are preferred ways of expressing your organization’s role and work in the community.
  4. Key Messages. A step below the mission that details the actions your organization takes in the day-to-day, it can be very important to lay out 3 to 5 core ideas that you are trying to convey throughout your communications. For example, a group like the Organization for the Prevention of Blindness, one of our nonprofit partners, has a key goal of establishing sight as a human right. On the other hand, another partner, SOS SAHEL, stresses that the Sahel region of Africa may face critical challenges of instability and environmental degradation, but the advantages the region has — including human and natural resources — give it the potential to have dramatic economic and environmental impact globally.

Beyond those elements above, it is also important to note any preferred spellings, terminology or grammatical conventions. For example, disability rights organizations may specify in their branding guide that they only accept person-first language (e.g. person with a disability rather than disabled person) to ensure that they honor and respect program participants, rather than defining them by their disability.

Components of Your Visual Identity

Once you have determined the verbal messaging and tone, you can then consider how different visual elements express that tone, including:

  1. Colors. The human mind associates certain colors with specific personalities and tones. Green, as an example, is seen to reflect regeneration, nature and growth. It is of course frequently used for groups with an environmental mission. On the contrary, purple is seen to represent luxury, power and nobility, and it may be more readily associated with a high-powered academic institution. As you consider the verbal components of your identity, what colors express those ideas? You will want to consider a palette of primary colors, which will dominate your branding, as well as secondary and possibly tertiary colors that provide different pops or accents.
  2. Typography. More than just a way to put words to paper, the fonts you assign to your organization help to set a mood as readers interact with external communications. For example, highly playful fonts would be inappropriate if your organization is focused on human rights for refugees — which would demand a more somber or serious tone. You should consider both print and digital fonts, as well as differentiation between headers and body text.
  3. Logomark and Usage. Of course, your logomark — sometimes paired with your name, or possibly used in isolation — is one of the core features of your visual identity. In your brand guide, you should showcase both full color and black and white versions, as well as illustrate acceptable usage of the logomark. This includes the dimensions and proportions, required white space to include around the graphic, limitations on the types of backgrounds it can be used against and so on. If you have multiple versions, for example with and without the organization name or a tagline, this should also be specified.
  4. Graphic Conventions and Applications. This may include expressions of your visual identity through items like stationary, business cards or email signatures, as well as any additional graphic flourishes that are present throughout your communications. For example, in the branding work we put together for the Magdi Yacoub Global Heart Foundation, we identified core iconography to represent their different programs, as well as a series of concentric circles (both static and pulsing) to represent a heartbeat, tying to the organization’s mission of cardiac care.
  5. Photography Style. A picture is worth a thousand words, and it is important that the pictures you select express the words you want! For nonprofit groups, we tend to find that the most impactful photographs include a smaller number of people, looking directly into the camera and smiling. Selecting criteria for your photography will help to ensure that a consistent tone is present across your communications, that your programs are represented in a favorable light and so on.

While there are a lot of different components to consider, taking the time to define these core components of your brand identity will pay dividends and save work in the long-term.

If you want to explore the ways in which our team of communications and graphics experts can help you to define or refresh a brand identity, please do not hesitate to reach out! From leading workshops, interviewing and surveying your team to spending time on and off-site to create fully-developed brand identity guides, we are ready to help. Please email Lindsay, our Senior Director of Global Philanthropy, at lindsay@faircomny.com


Lindsay Long


About the author

Lindsay Long — Senior Director of Global Philanthropy at Faircom NY

Lindsay Long is the Senior Director of Global Philanthropy at FNY, and she brings over 10 years of experience in research, development and communications to the team. She has a background in a range of fundraising initiatives, including direct marketing, special events, and cultivation and stewardship of high net worth and institutional donors. Beyond development and execution of trainings for nonprofit boards and staff, Lindsay is a trusted presenter on trends and learnings in global philanthropy. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in geography and economics from McGill University in Montreal.

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