Branding Elements All Non-Profits Need

Two people discussing the brand elements their non-profit needs

Non-profit branding can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. In the end, you need to make sure your brand includes these four elements:

  • Visual
  • Tonal
  • Experiential
  • Consistency

When you combine those four elements together you have the necessary ingredients to build an amazing non-profit brand. Let’s dive into each one a bit further to make sure you have all the information you need to get your brand up and running.

Visual

The visual elements of your brand are the most obvious, and the one people easily recognize. Whether it’s your logo, your website, or marketing collateral, every visual element is a representation of your non-profit.

How it’s communicated

Your visual elements are communicated any time a potential donor sees anything associated with your brand. Here are some common places where the those elements are seen:

  • Logo
  • Business Card
  • Letterhead
  • Website
  • Marketing Collateral
  • Signage
  • Apparel

Goal

The goal is to make sure all these visual elements are in sync with each other. That means using the same color palette, typography, and overall visual style.

Next Steps

There are two things you can do today to improve the visual elements of your non-profit’s brand.

The first is to document all of the places where your brand is visually represented (we suggest starting with the list above as a reference). As you continue to create new visuals for your brand update your list. This helps ensure nothing is overlooked if you ever update the colors, fonts, or visual style of your brand.

Second, you need to document all of these elements (this is usually called a “Brand Guide” or a “Style Guide”). If you need help creating your brand guide be sure to read our post about brand guides. There’s also a link to a brand guide template (which is done using Google Docs) in that post.

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Tonal

The tonal element of your brand is a blend of design, psychology, and societal conditioning. The challenging part is that it’s all communicated on a subconscious level.

How it’s communicated

When your brand uses a particular color or font, it is communicating information to the viewer. Sometimes the viewer is consciously aware of how they’re being impacted, but many times it’s done on a subconscious level. This is why people will say a brand “rubs them the wrong way” or they can’t understand “why everyone loves that brand” but they struggle to articulate exactly why they feel that way.

Goal

The goal of your tonal elements is to help donors understand how your brand views itself. But, more importantly those elements need to align with the views of your donors. Achieving this is essential if you want your brand to compelling people to become advocates for the brand.

Next Steps

The most important thing you need to do is make sure there is alignment between the tone you want associated with your brand and the tones that resonate with your ideal donors.

To do this you need to pick up to 3 tone words you want associated with your brand (read our brand messaging post for more info on this). Then ask yourself if those tone words are ones your ideal donors also align with.

Experiential

The visual and tonal aspects of your brand may be what attracts someone to you, but the experiences you provide them is what they remember. Think about it. When was the last time someone told you they loved a brand because of the brand’s logo or colors? 

The answer is probably, never, right? Instead, when people talk about brands, they talk about the experiences they had with that brand’s product or service. 

How it’s communicated

As a non-profit, your business has two main touch points when someone may experience your brand: 

  • Experiencing the benefits of your purpose/cause
  • Experiencing what it’s like to be a donor

Experiencing the benefits of your non-profit

You started your non-profit because you felt compelled to make a difference in the world. It’s now your job to help others feel the same way. Some of the best ways to accomplish this are through videos and storytelling. In the end, you want your donors to experience what it is like to make a difference in the area or community you’re serving.

Experiencing what it’s like to be a donor

When a donor either makes a donation or volunteers their time, what type of experience are they getting? Do you let them know how much you appreciate them? How easy is it to make a donation or volunteer?

Those are all questions you need to have answers to if you want to create a memorable experience for donors. The more enjoyable you can make the process of donating or volunteering, the more people will be willing to do those for you.

Goal

In the end you want to create impactful, memorable experiences for your donors. When people have positive experiences with a brand it increases brand loyalty and advocacy for your brand. And, the best way to spread your purpose/cause is for others to share their experiences with their friends and family.

Next Steps

Think about the different times someone may experience your brand. What are you doing to ensure every instance makes them feel valued and part of your purpose/cause?

Go through each experience point and put yourself in the eyes of your donors. As you do this you’ll find opportunities to improve the experience. 

Consistency

The final, and maybe most important element of a non-profit’s brand is consistency.

As your brand grows, it’s imperative you maintain consistency. That means using the same visuals, speaking to your donors the same way every time, and making sure you’re giving them the same great experience day in and day out.

How it’s communicated

Consistency is communicated in the most basic way — are you consistent in the usage of the other three elements.

It’s as simple as that. But, while it may be simple, it’s not always easy to maintain consistency.

Goals

Consistency is the glue that holds your brand together. When your brand is consistent it builds trust and brand recognition. It is also a reflection of your professionalism as a business. Your goal should be to have a consistent brand at all times.

Note: No brand is consistent 100% of the time, but you must always strive for 100%. Otherwise you’ll open yourself and your brand up to complacency. 

Next Steps

The easiest way to maintain brand consistency is to audit your brand every 3–6 months. This is something that only takes a few hours at most and is an easy process to follow.

Gather all of your marketing materials and compare them to your website and social media profiles. When doing this look for visual and tonal inconsistencies between them all.

Need pro bono help with your non-profit's marketing? Reach out to set up an Introductory Call.

Justin Lynch
Justin Lynch

Justin is a Brand Strategist at Avlier, a brand consulting company.