What Goes Into an Effective Nonprofit Branding Strategy?

Ryan Felix • Aug 18, 2021

Nonprofit branding is a buzzword used by many, although few truly understand the depths of what goes into a successful branding strategy.

Your nonprofit’s brand is more than just a simple graphic icon alongside your name on marketing materials. It’s the essence of who you are and what you stand for, and it helps you build trust and forge relationships with your audience.

It will be incorporated throughout your marketing materials as well. Your organization’s brand should be apparent (and consistent) on your nonprofit website, social media channels, printed collateral, signage, and more. 

But a brand also has to do with how you run your campaigns and your organization’s overall culture. And a well-designed nonprofit branding strategy can make all the difference.

Specifically, when creating an effective branding strategy, it’s important to consider your nonprofit’s:

  1. Name
  2. Logo
  3. Typography
  4. Color Palette
  5. Positioning
  6. Voice
  7. Message

As you read through this guide, think about your organization’s existing brand strategy and determine whether any aspects could benefit from a revamp. Hopefully, you’ll pick out some great ideas for inspiration, too!

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1. Name

Your organization’s name is one of the most critical aspects of your nonprofit branding strategy, but it can also be one of the most difficult to settle on. After all, it’s what your audience will likely use to refer to or seek out information about your organization.

In most cases, the best nonprofit names tend to be:

  • Unique: When you name your organization, select a name that is not being used by an existing nonprofit. This is important for practical reasons (i.e., avoiding inquiries directed to your organization that were meant for another), and in many areas, you won’t be able to register with an already-taken name.
  • Descriptive: While this certainly isn’t a requirement, many organizations find success with choosing a descriptive and mission-relevant name. By incorporating pertinent words and phrases that reflect your mission (for example, Charity: Water or Doctors without Borders), you can give audience members a better understanding of your organization from the get-go. 
  • Memorable: Many organizations like to leverage literary and mnemonic devices such as alliteration (such as Habitat for Humanity) and rhyming (like Paws with a Cause) to make their name stand out and encourage easy recall among their audiences. Additionally, if a nonprofit’s name is made up of several words or a phrase, catchy acronyms are often used to provide a simplified, shortened alternative (as in the case of WWF).

As you brainstorm possible names, be sure to consider your organization’s mission, values, beneficiaries, supporters, and other key concepts. Then, think about existing word associations and language choices, ensuring your nonprofit chooses a name for itself that effectively encapsulates what you do.

2. Logo

A nonprofit’s logo is one of the most memorable visual aspects of the organization and is used to build emotional connections and elicit impactful responses at its sight. 

A logo often encompasses many other branding elements within itself, including an organization’s name, color palette, and tagline. However, effective and well-known nonprofit logos should be recognizable by the public even without the organization’s name beside it.

Additionally, many organizations opt for symbol-based logo designs that reflect the mission of the nonprofit. For example, if your team works to provide school supplies to underfunded institutions, you might incorporate a colorful image of crayons or markers. While this is not a requirement, it can be extremely useful for emphasizing emotional ties between your audience and the cause you’re pursuing.

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3. Typography

A nonprofit’s typography has to do with the text included in any public-facing materials you create—but rather than the content itself, it describes the way that your characters are styled and arranged. 

Here are a few specific elements to consider when creating your organization’s typography:

  • Typefaces, or families of related fonts that can vary based on the text’s size, weight, slope, and more
  • Stylization, or the way your text is formatted—such as capitalization 
  • Hierarchy, or varying sizes in design elements that subconsciously direct the users’ eye in an intended pattern

But it’s not all about being aesthetically pleasing, either! At Loop: Design for Social Good, we find that a nonprofit’s choice in typography is vital for communicating a specific voice and tone. And of course, you want your text to be easily legible to help effectively present your messaging to the audience inprint and digital environments.

4. Color Palette

Choosing your organization’s color palette is about more than just what looks good together—although maintaining a visually appealing brand is undoubtedly important. Your nonprofit’s colors can actually say a lot about you!

As you explore various possible colors and color palettes, be sure to consider the following:

  • Emotions associated with each color: Studies show that different colors have different psychological effects on viewers, which is certainly something you’d want to consider when designing your organization’s color palette. For example, reds tend to personify bold emotions like passion, strength, and anger, while blues often lean toward peace, trust, and competence.
  • Existing organizations and causes: Since your nonprofit doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s a good idea to consider the other widely known color palettes of existing organizations and causes, as well as ones that operate in similar spaces. For example, pinks are typically associated with breast cancer awareness, with reds and blues often tied to political parties.
  • Your nonprofit’s mission: Depending on your mission, there might even be a set of colors typically associated with that sector. For example, conservation-based nonprofits tend to choose green-heavy palettes, while healthcare organizations might skew towards hues of red. While you’re not obligated to follow suit with your cause, it can certainly function as a useful jumping-off point.

Once you’ve chosen the core colors to represent your organization, be sure to maintain a consistent palette throughout your entire nonprofit branding strategy. And don’t forget—regardless of your color choices, they must meet sufficient and accessible contrast ratios. 

5. Positioning

Strategically positioning your organization is an important step in the nonprofit branding process, although it’s often overlooked in the mission-driven sector. That’s because this idea tends to differ greatly from its counterpart in the for-profit world.

While for-profit businesses typically use positioning strategies to argue that they’re better than their competitors, charitable organizations often opt for a more collaborative approach. Sure, there are other nonprofits with similar missions to your own—but they’re seen as partners rather than rivals. After all, you’re all working towards the same goal.

However, it’s still critical that you position your organization in a way that it’s clear why you need to exist rather than function as an extension of an existing group. Be sure you can answer the question of “what makes your nonprofit unique?

One actionable way to do that is by conducting a SWOT analysis—or taking a closer look at your nonprofit’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Then, highlight your strengths and opportunities as a part of your brand, and look at your weaknesses and threats as areas to improve on.

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Not sure how to get started? Use this free worksheet and how-to
guide to conduct a SWOT Analysis that is tailored to your organization

6. Voice

A nonprofit’s voice consists of both their personality and their tone. Your personality is intended to humanize your organization and forge emotional connections, while your tone is the way you express those ideas in concrete ways.

The voice you choose for your organization will likely depend greatly on your target audience. For example, your tone and personality might be very different if you’re aiming to reach a predominantly Millennial audience versus a group of Baby Boomers or even Generation Z. 

Additionally, it’s important to consider the type of mission you serve. More sensitive causes (like a shelter for people who have experienced violence, for example) will generally use a warm and compassionate voice, while youth organizations might take a more cheery, upbeat tone.

7. Message

Last but certainly not least, a nonprofit’s brand message is crucial for defining who they are. This is often communicated through a succinct mission statement on an “About Us” page, although it can also encompass every aspect of an organization’s values, benefits, vision, programming, and more. 

In your overall brand story, be sure to answer questions such as these:

  • What problem are we looking to solve in the world—and why does it matter?
  • What do we offer our audience?
  • How can we inspire action and make a difference in our community?

As you craft your organization’s overarching message, you’ll likely benefit from honing specific nonprofit storytelling skills (such as emotional connection and intellectual stimulation) to effectively communicate your purpose and the answers to the above questions.

Then, once you’ve defined your message, you’ll incorporate it in everything you do.

 

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It’s important to remember that any nonprofit’s branding strategy—including your own—should be continuously evolving to better suit the organization’s needs. The elements discussed above are vital pieces of who you are, meaning they should grow and develop alongside your organization as well. In the end, you should have a thorough branding strategy that can be easily communicated to and recognized by your audience.

About the Author: 
Ryan Felix

Ryan is a co-founder of Loop: Design for Social Good who brings a strong intuition and insight to create bold, creative & impactful websites. Ryan has led design studios in Toronto and New York using his knowledge of Human Centred Design to increase meaningful conversions and design enjoyable web experiences.