Free Canva Template: The Ultimate Brand Guideline for Nonprofits

Brand guidelines are a small nonprofit’s best ally, neatly bundling all your branding and marketing know-how into one accessible guide. This document simplifies onboarding, guarantees consistency, and is crucial for making a big impact with a small team. Get the scoop on essential pages to include in your guide, examples of brand books we love, and how to start creating one for your nonprofit (with a free Canva template!)
Grid showing bold blue slides from HeartSpark's free Brand Guideline Template. The template cover is in the center, featuring the Canva logo and placeholder content.

Get HeartSpark’s Free Brand Guideline Template (Built in Canva)!

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: 

What is a brand guideline?

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.

Why should nonprofits use brand guidelines?

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.

3 distinct benefits of brand guidelines for small nonprofit teams

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:

  1. Clarity
    I can’t tell you how many times our clients have told us that just going through the process of getting thoughts on paper has helped them understand their brand and be able to communicate it much more effectively.

    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.”

  2. Consistency
    Every day you’re making strategic decisions that affect your brand. And it’s your people that bring a strategy or story to life, not just getting the idea on paper. The only thing consistent about people is our inconsistency. Brand guidelines shouldn’t paint you into a corner, but they should put some clear boundaries around how your nonprofit talks, looks, and responds to the world.

    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!

  3. Examples
    Too often in the nonprofit sector, something works and we just breeze over it and move onto the next task on the to-do list. Your brand guidelines are a great opportunity to document examples of your nonprofit’s work that were successful, so they can live on as the standard for how to resonate with your supporters.

    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.

14 essential pages to include in your nonprofit’s brand guideline

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:

  1. Mission Statement – At the very beginning of your brand guideline, include your mission statement. This is the reason your nonprofit exists with an actionable statement about where you’re going in the near future. Now I’ll be honest, a lot of mission statements are just jargony garbage that don’t say anything at all, so if you’re looking to refine your mission, hit pause and start with this article on positioning your nonprofit.
  2. Vision Statement – Vision is very different from your mission statement. This is your vision of what the future would look like if you solved the problem your nonprofit is working to address. This is usually a deep philosophical statement that goes beyond “raising more money.” It’s a larger goal that may even be well beyond your nonprofit’s capabilities.
  3. Values – Values are the underlying quirks and qualities that make your nonprofit unique. Think of core values as the characteristics someone needs to get involved and support your cause. You’ll notice in our free template that this list is limited to 5 values, because any more than that and no one will remember them!
  4. Unique Reason to Give – Think of your URG as the practical application of your vision statement for supporters. This is the unique way that your nonprofit solves a problem in the world that’s unlike anyone else. How you solve the problem is exactly why people are supporting your nonprofit – and not another one in your vertical.
  5. Shared Identity – Nonprofits are unique in that we aren’t just serving a cause, but we also have to acknowledge funding sources as well. You and your supporters hold a shared set of beliefs about your enemy (usually an abstract concept like global warming or inequality), a future state, and how your organization makes them feel. Understanding the psychographics of your donors is important for speaking their language and meeting their needs.
  6. Story Pillars – Storytelling is a major part of your nonprofit’s brand and there are 5 key elements to help people understand your constituents. Your constituents may not even be a person, it could be a place, thing, or animal. We need to paint the psychographic picture of their life so your team understands who/where/what we’re talking about.
  7. Brand Voice – This is how your nonprofit talks about your constituents and the mission. Usually these keywords are directly related to your values, and it can be helpful to view them on a sliding scale. Why? Because humans rarely have a one-dimensional personality. Use the sliding scale in our free template to help you measure your brand voice and help your team get a feel for where your nonprofit sounds on the spectrum.
  8. Messaging – There are three key pieces to sharing your message: an elevator pitch, an explanatory paragraph, and calls to action (CTAs). If it’s necessary, you can also add a list of registered trademarks so your team knows what needs to be legally protected, like your name, tagline or key phrase. Again, remember that this is a helpful document for someone who is just getting to know your nonprofit, so these messages should be clear and concise!
  9. Logos – Your logo is the one piece of your brand to be a stickler for consistency! In your brand guideline, share a high level overview of your nonprofit’s logo options, as well as how and when each type should be used. If your logo needs to be small, is there another version to use? If it’s overlaid on a photo, do I use an inverted version? Be as clear and definitive as possible with your logo, but also provide a link to all of your logo files so they’re easy to access.
  10. Color Palette – Define the top 5-6 brand colors, add color names, and include the color codes below each hue. CMYK is the print color mode, RGB is for digital screens, and HEX is a 6-digit code that helps the color stay consistent between print and digital. But this is where our template’s integration with Canva gets really cool. If you add the hues to your Brand Kit, then you can actually apply your brand colors to our template without having to manually change all of the colors and fonts. Pretty cool, right?!
  11. Fonts – Every computer hosts an array of font options, and as I’m sure you know, every member of your team has their own templates where they may or may not be using the correct brand fonts. This is your opportunity to spell out clearly what fonts are used for headlines, subheadings, paragraph text and buttons. Again, this is where adding a button to a folder of “on-brand fonts” will save you a bunch of headaches! Another pro tip: choose brand fonts that have free Google Font alternatives.
  12. Photography – Another constant battle I hear about from our nonprofit clients is organizing (or locating) brand photography. Use this page in your brand guideline to share examples of your best photos and add some context for why this style fits your brand. This is also a great place to include a link to an organized photography archive by year and location.
  13. Brand Samples – Show shining examples of your brand in action! Social media posts, email marketing, advertising, or your website homepage are all great ways to demonstrate how your strategy, messaging and style come together to showcase your mission. You don’t have to go wild with screenshots, but try to keep them up to date at least twice per year.
  14. Contact – If someone has questions about your brand or how to use it, who should they contact? This page may seem simple, but you’d be amazed at how many people skip this important step!

Examples of nonprofit brand guidelines we love (updated for 2024)

  • Charity:water – Charity:water holds the “most referenced and coveted brand” award for the nonprofit sector, and their brand book is a shining example of why that is. They clearly outline every detail of their brand and stick to it.
  • Feeding America – I love that Feeding America keeps their brand book updated and easy to access for their partners. Consider how you can flex your brand guideline into an asset for your external partners, too!
  • Habitat for Humanity Great Britain – If a PDF download isn’t quite your style, Habitat for Humanity shows how your brand guide can be just as effective as a single page on your website. This may require some dev experience to work, but it’s a great example of how simple your brand guideline can be.
  • The Trevor Project – The Trevor Project uses a tool called Bynder to put their brand assets at the forefront (logos and photos), but I love how easy it is to get to each part of their brand guideline. It also looks like they’ve created a separate brand guideline for “external partners” in Google Slides which creates another template for their team to use – bold and brilliant all around!
  • UNICEF – This is probably the most stunning brand guideline I’ve ever seen for a nonprofit, but if you pay attention to how simple it is, it’ll take your breath away. Full-bleed photos and solid blue backgrounds underline that this brand book is about UNICEF through and through.
  • World Wildlife Fund – UK – Imagine having a wide enough reach that your brand book needs to be a living, breathing document! WWF delivers on how modern brand guidelines can be for nonprofits with an entire website dedicated to being clear and consistent, even translatable and mobile-friendly. Even their descriptions of brand elements are styled and branded!

How to create a brand guideline for your nonprofit

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!

Download our free brand guideline template (Canva-ready)

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:

  • Access to the exact brand guideline template that we use for our custom brand and web services.
  • A video in which Lauren will walk you through how to fill in the blanks for each section and page.
  • A fast-pass to getting all your brand assets organized and consistent.

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!

Get HeartSpark’s Free Brand Guideline Template (Built in Canva)!

If you have any questions or trouble with the template, please use this form to contact HeartSpark Design.