When you’re running a small team, brand guidelines may seem redundant or unnecessary. But the truth is, getting all of your marketing know-how into one place is more than just a relief for you – it may be the very thing your team needs but isn’t sure how to ask for. Making work so much easier, think of this comprehensive doc as a gift for your creative team.
Defining the history and boundaries around your nonprofit’s brand in one document like a brand guideline will help you stay aligned and consistent. Plus, when you’re bringing on new employees, volunteers or consultants, they can pick up who you are faster than “learning on the job” – saving time and money.
In this article, we’ll cover:
There are many names for a brand guideline – brand book, brand style guide, brand standards – but at its core a brand guideline is a digital document that contains key information about your nonprofit.
Think of it as an internal repository for all of your marketing know-how: fonts, colors, phrases, keywords, etc. Branding is a really tough concept to nail down. Brand guidelines help add structure and provide example words and pictures to help explain the entire concept of your brand to someone new.
Your brand guideline can be as complex or simple as it needs to be in order to be effective. I’ve worked with brand guidelines that were over 100 pages, styles boiled down to a one-pager, as well as some of the most beautiful web-based guidelines. And when all is said and done, I think the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.
The most effective brand guidelines I’ve built land between 10-20 pages and are accessible on your nonprofit’s website.
From history and strategy to messaging and style to important links and marketing samples – it’s important to build a thorough guide for your nonprofit. No more, no less. Brand guidelines should be put together as if you were sending it to someone who has never seen or heard of your nonprofit before.
There’s a reason every major for-profit company has brand guidelines – it’s how they keep the standards high and the process streamlined.
And the same is true for nonprofits. With lots of short-term help, a revolving door of volunteers, and stakeholder opinions to contend with – nonprofits could benefit most from brand guidelines to keep their clarity, maintain consistency, and share important information quickly.
Building your brand guideline makes every offer, campaign, and even internal communication easier. It’s a lifeline when a new person is hired, a new volunteer joins your team, or even just to communicate effectively with each other.
Instead of wasting your time answering a thousand questions about “where’s that template?” or “where’s an EPS version of that logo?” you can direct people to a single document that has everything they need. Heaven, right?!
And investing now to get your “brand house” in order will pay off in the long run when your donors feel like they’re supporting an organization that’s, well, organized.
While this sounds effective for million-dollar companies and legacy nonprofits, brand guidelines are equally important for small nonprofits with lean teams. Communicating your nonprofit’s brand can be really tough and feel scrappy in your startup years, but as your nonprofit grows it’s essential to keep everyone on the same page and putting forth a consistent image to the public.
Here are the top 3 benefits we’ve seen when nonprofits create their own brand guidelines:
And on the flip side, I’ve heard from other consultants that work with our mutual clients after the brand refresh process how much faster they can move because the nonprofit’s strategy and brand identity are set.
Having clarity on your nonprofit’s brand and pulling everything out of your mind and into a document makes a huge difference in how you understand the brand as a founder, how you communicate it to your team, and how you make decisions about your path forward. In the words of our client Johanna, “the process is a game changer.”
Anyone in your nonprofit should be able to take this document and fully understand who you are and how you show up in the world. We want to give folks as much helpful information as possible so they have good creative direction – at every level of the organization.
Can you think of any organization that needs consistency more than a nonprofit that’s being molded by the hands of staff, volunteers, donors, and consultants? Me neither!
Examples are also a great way to help people “get” how your style, messaging, and strategy all come together. When your team or consultants can see your outputs clearly, then they can more closely replicate them to get better results.
At the end of a brand refresh or rebrand project, we’ll put together a brand guideline for our clients. We’ve created a simplified brand guideline template for you that includes the 5 main sections that are essential for nonprofits.
Here are the important pieces to include in your brand guideline:
Now that we’ve walked through what brand guidelines are, why they’re important for small team nonprofits, and shared examples of best practices – it’s time to create your very own!
Start by downloading our free brand guideline template and starting with the strategy pieces. As a founder or key team member, this should be quick work for you! After you’ve done the first pass, share it with your team and leave the document alone until everyone chimes in. This is not the time to open up feedback to your board, but it is important to get feedback from people who are using the brand every day.
If you haven’t officially gone through a brand refresh or reband yet, start by collecting your most successful marketing emails and social media posts. Add screenshots of each piece to a Canva document, then pull out your brand logos, use the eyedropper tool to collect brand colors and fonts, and start building a folder of your best photography.
Again, run your choices by the team to get their feedback and ensure your brand colors and fonts are accessible as well. We served a client duo that had no idea one of their team members was color blind until going through this exercise, and that forever changed how they described and used their color palette!
There are thousands of brand guideline templates available for you to use, but very few are built for nonprofits and even fewer focus on the right elements to include in your brand guideline. So, we built a free Canva template for you!
The brand guideline template includes the 14 essential pages pre-built in Canva and ready for you to customize for your nonprofit. Not only is completing a brand guideline essential for your team, but after defining each of these elements, you’ll have a better understanding of who your organization is, too. It’s worth investing the time and effort – even just for your own confidence and clarity!
Complete the form and get:
One quick disclaimer: You’ll need a Canva Premium account to access this template. But the good news is that Canva Premium is free for qualifying nonprofits. Learn more about the Canva for Nonprofits program and sign up today!