Your nonprofit is in the business of helping others—which means you’re powered by community support. Reaching passionate supporters quickly is how you turn interest into impact, which is why nonprofit branding and marketing are so important.
That said, you likely didn’t go into this space as a marketing expert, which can make creating a comprehensive branding strategy seem overwhelming. However, by following the tips in this ultimate guide, you can make your nonprofit’s brand identity dynamic and three-dimensional. We’ll cover the following basics:
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Without further ado, let’s explore the exciting process of crafting an innovative, inspiring identity for your nonprofit through branding.
Nonprofit Branding FAQ
What is nonprofit branding?
Kwala defines nonprofit branding as “a [nonprofit’s] means of communicating your mission and values. It’s what makes a nonprofit unique–giving it a distinguishable flair.”
Think of your nonprofit’s brand as your fingerprint—though it might be similar to another organization’s, no two are exactly the same. There are some visual aspects of branding that multiple organizations will inevitably use, such as typeface and color scheme, but it’s how you implement these elements that make your brand truly distinctive.
Why is nonprofit branding important?
Branding is just as important for nonprofits as it is for their for-profit counterparts. For instance, consider these facts about branding:
- 93% of nonprofits think that cultivating a cohesive brand identity can increase donor engagement. (Mallory Erickson)
- 74% say a strong brand identity can boost recurring donations. (Mallory Erickson)
- 81% of consumers need to trust a brand before buying. (ExplodingTopics)
- Consistent, strong branding can increase revenue by up to 23%. (Influencer Marketing Hub)
- Five in six nonprofits have worked with professional designers and marketing professionals to enhance their brand. (Nonprofit Pro)
Some of these stats refer to consumers in the for-profit world, but they still emphasize the crucial role branding plays in building an organization’s credibility, which is key to securing gifts and support for your cause.
Beyond boosting fundraising revenue, here are the main benefits that branding can bring to your nonprofit:
- New partnerships. Socially responsible companies want to partner with nonprofits that can support their own brand image, so having a strong brand out the gate helps you attract support.
- Increased credibility. Clean, professional branding makes your brand look polished, trustworthy, and experienced.
- Clarity in messaging and visual representation. By using a brand guide to standardize your appearance and messaging, you can create content that stakeholders and potential donors can immediately associate with your organization.
- Ability to attract new beneficiaries. Beneficiaries want to interact with a nonprofit that’s trustworthy, knowledgeable, and genuine, which you can reinforce through your brand image.
Ultimately, branding contributes to your nonprofit’s long-term stability, allowing you to form partnerships, build your beneficiary base, and make your name in your community.
What are the elements of nonprofit branding?
To make things simple, let’s break down nonprofit branding into two categories:
- Visual. This is likely what you think of when you hear the term “branding”—the outward aesthetic appearance of your brand. Components like your logo, letterhead, typeface, and color scheme fall into this category.
- Narrative. Your nonprofit’s story is crucial for marketing, and the narrative elements of your brand are how you tell it. Narrative elements include your slogan, mission and vision statements, tone of voice, and diction.
Both aspects of nonprofit branding help you shape your public-facing personality and message. We’ll go over how to determine what these components will look like for your organization later.
How can nonprofits convey their mission and values through branding?
Your nonprofit’s mission and values lie at the center of everything you do, from your work to your donor communications. To effectively convey them through your branding, keep these tips in mind:
- Show, don’t tell. The best way to tell a story is to make the audience feel as though they’re reliving it in real-time. Avoid telling the audience outright what you’re trying to evoke—leave them to form their own emotional connections based on their life experiences and personalities.
- Use emotional colors. If you’re ever feeling blue or green with envy, you know that colors can evoke different emotions. Kwala’s guide to color emotions indicates that red is bold, orange is energetic, yellow is optimistic, green is tranquil, blue is trustworthy, and purple is wise.
- Keep your core narrative elements straightforward. Snippets of your narrative brand, such as your slogan, should be short yet impactful to catch the audience’s attention immediately.
- Focus on your beneficiaries. It can be easy to center on your team’s role in bringing your nonprofit to life, but remember that they should not be the main protagonists of your story. Instead, your beneficiaries should be the heroes you champion throughout your branding.
- Be transparent, authentic, and passionate. 88% of consumers say that brand authenticity is a key element in deciding who to support, and the same trend goes for donors. Be open about your nonprofit’s direction and show your genuine commitment to your beneficiaries.
Keep these guidelines in mind as you get started, but remember to be creative and let your own personality shine through your brand. That’s the most genuine thing you can do to attract like-minded supporters!
How do we measure the success of new nonprofit branding?
Gauging how effective your branding elements are in raising awareness for your nonprofit helps you improve underperforming elements and adapt to new trends. The following metrics can help you understand your brand’s reach and resonance:
- Traffic to your website’s “about” or donation page
- Social media engagement
- Email subscribers and click-through rate
- Event signups
- Change in donation size
- Number of donations that are upgraded from one-time to recurring
Remember to collect both quantitative and qualitative data via supporter surveys to understand not only what’s working, but why it’s working.
What are the different price points for nonprofit branding?
As with every nonprofit project, the cost depends on the scale of your planned improvements. For example, imagine that a nonprofit is looking for a comprehensive rebrand. Here are some of the tiers they’d likely need to consider:
- Entry tier: Basic revamp of some visual elements with simple tools. This tier is best suited for smaller nonprofits that are just starting off or organizations that only need light brand changes.
- Intermediate tier: Elements from the entry tier, plus the creation of narrative components like mission and vision statements and more advanced multimedia elements. This tier is best suited for nonprofits with room in their budget and who can afford long-term investments in their brand strategy.
- Advanced tier: All elements from previous tiers, plus collaboration with top nonprofit marketing agencies who will provide in-depth marketing intel and metric tracking, both for specific campaigns and overall brand awareness. This tier is best for nonprofits with a significant marketing budget and who can afford long-term investments in their brand strategy.
These are broad categories to go on, so remember to conduct your own research into specific nonprofit marketing agencies and request a cost breakdown for your specific needs.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Nonprofit Branding
Now that you have a baseline understanding of nonprofit branding, let’s get into what you should and shouldn’t do when creating your brand identity.
- Be consistent. Reinforce your branded elements by adhering to your brand guidelines for everything, whether it’s a letterhead or language for a donation pitch.
- Incorporate interactive elements. Using a robust CMS allows you to infuse interactivity into your branded elements. For instance, you could include a custom countdown timer on your website for your upcoming fundraiser.
- Prioritize quality over quantity. It can be tempting to pump out as many branded marketing materials as possible to boost visibility, but you’re better off spending more time perfecting just a few pieces of content.
- Include all audiences. Making your marketing materials accessible to all, regardless of ability and browsing preference, is key to broadening your impact. For instance, ensure that digital materials are mobile-friendly and accessible by using alt text and color contrast. Also, consider offering translated versions of your website so speakers of other languages can be inspired by your content.
- Leverage a feedback loop. Ensure that you’re always open to feedback from your target audience so you can continually improve your branding efforts. For instance, you can poll donors about which channels they found you from and what emotions your brand conveys.
- Train your team. Maintaining a consistent brand image can be challenging, especially for your employees, who need to embody it at all times. Train your team on how to use your brand guide and leverage branded elements so it becomes second nature for them.
- Rely on jargon. Part of making your brand accessible is to use terminology that everyone can understand, regardless of education or profession. Use simple, emotional terms to discuss your mission-critical initiatives.
- Copy trends blindly. Just because a branding trend is popular doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your organization. Changes to your brand should always be discussed thoroughly with your team and analyzed for feasibility.
- Overcomplicate your brand. Creating too many branded elements or highlighting too many voices can confuse both your stakeholders and your team. Choose a few beneficiary stories to highlight so your message isn’t muddled.
- Be too generic. Remember that your brand should be unlike any other in the nonprofit world. Avoid using bland, formulaic visual and narrative conventions.
- Overpromise. Be realistic when communicating with supporters via your brand. Don’t highlight unachievable goals in your narrative elements so you and your supporters remain on the same page.
- Use negative imagery. Your nonprofit should aim to inspire, not guilt or scare potential supporters. Use optimistic images, such as your beneficiaries smiling, to motivate donors to give.
Now, let’s explore some exemplary samples of nonprofit branding to inspire you.
Top Examples of Nonprofit Branding
These two examples of VolunteerMatch’s branding embody their purpose of making volunteers, nonprofits, and their beneficiaries happy. They use the same font style, language, solid-colored background, and profile shots of happy people to demonstrate their cause.
Once their audience views these branded elements and gets inspired to volunteer, this branded material shows them exactly what to do next:
All of these branded images work together in harmony to catch the audience’s attention and funnel them through to finally join the network.
2. Balboa Park
This iconic San Diego landmark is a crucial part of the community and thrives off tourist visitors. Balboa Park’s team wanted to create a new website complete with branded elements to boost ticket sales:
Website visitors can view the park’s beauty and culturally significant monuments through full-page photos, framed with an elegant, pastel color palette and a consistent, unique font. Plus, the buttons to “learn more” or “buy tickets” are in different colors so they jump off the page. Ultimately, Balboa Park’s new website and branded elements mirror its simple elegance and showcase all the park has to offer.
3. The Game Changers
The Game Changers Institute wanted to make a film about the power of plant-based eating and fitness to promote healthy living. To help get the word out about their film, they decided to take a robust approach to branding and marketing. Take a look at some of the documentary’s branded marketing components:
The documentary’s bold colors and font, paired with its motivating imagery of plant-based foods and athletes exercising, displays the healthy lifestyle that the audience will learn about from the film. Plus, the proof is in the campaign’s analytics:
- Nearly 100,000 visitors went to the site
- On average, 9.09% of site visitors converted to buying tickets
- Recorded over 38,000 clicks to get tickets in the first two weeks of the launch
- More than 4,000 trailer views
- Within one week of adding an email pop-up form to the site, The Game Changers gained 40,000 new email subscribers
The Game Changers case study highlights how emotional branding can go a long way in converting casual audience members into invested supporters of your cause.
Key Nonprofit Branding Takeaways
You might be wondering: What do these brands have in common besides a cohesive, professional brand image? They worked with the best-in-class nonprofit branding agency, Fifty & Fifty, which provides services such as:
- Visual and narrative branding creation
- Web design and creation, including microsites and applications
- Digital marketing, targeting channels such as social media, email, and search engines
- Support, including website updates, progress analytics and reporting, site security and maintenance
If your nonprofit has big branding ideas in mind and wants to make them a reality with expert guidance, connect with Fifty & Fifty today.
How to Launch Your Nonprofit Branding Journey
1. Gauge your current approach to nonprofit branding.
Your nonprofit might already have a fleshed-out brand identity, or you might be starting from square one. Regardless, analyze your existing strategies and brand components to identify areas for improvement. Ask your existing supporters for feedback, check your KPIs, and take inspiration from nonprofits you admire to help you chart a path forward.
2. Create a nonprofit brand guide.
Much like a nonprofit marketing plan, this is perhaps the most important step in establishing your nonprofit brand because your branding guide will act as the source of truth for your organization until you amend it. Check out this example of a nonprofit branding guide for a fictional animal shelter:
Though this template is a good starting point, your nonprofit should disregard categories that aren’t relevant to your branding needs and add those that will enhance your efforts.
3. Align your team.
Ensuring that your team understands and embraces your new branding principles is crucial for maintaining consistency and bringing dimension to your brand. Discuss the different nuances of your brand, including what to say and not to say, to fine-tune your messaging and visual aspects.
4. Launch your new branded components.
Once you’re ready to roll out your branded components, let your supporters know that your nonprofit is taking on a new look. Try to change your digital elements at the same time so there isn’t any confusion or disconnect from your stakeholders. Then, continually monitor your brand-related KPIs to see if your new strategies are getting results.
Final Thoughts About Nonprofit Branding
If you’re to take one thing from this guide, let it be this: Don’t leave your nonprofit branding up to chance. It can make the difference between you becoming a household name and smashing your fundraising goals or falling short. By preparing a detailed brand guide, working with a nonprofit branding agency, and listening to your supporters, you can transform not only your nonprofit’s influence but also your beneficiaries’ quality of life, cultivating a community that stands the test of time.
- Nonprofit Digital Marketing – Making Your Mark Online. Want to learn more about nonprofit marketing outside of branding? This guide can give you everything you need.
- Nonprofit Marketing Agency: Share Your “Why.” Choosing a nonprofit marketing agency can be a huge task. Research your options thoroughly with our top providers list.
- Digital Agency for Nonprofits & Social Brands. See for yourself all the ways Fifty & Fifty can enhance your ability to do good via digital marketing and branding.