How to Choose the Right Colors for Your Non-Profit

Why color matters

If there was a way to increase the recognition of your non-profit’s brand by up to 80% you would take the time to invest in learning more about that method, correct?

Then why do most businesses, for-profit and non-profits alike, tend to overlook this opportunity?

The most likely reason is that when you hear the method it sounds too simple and too unbelievable. So, what is this secret, and can something so simple actually increase your brand recognition that much?

The answer is color. And yes, it will have that much of an impact on your brand.

The reasons why are deeply rooted in human psychology and there are many scientific studies that back up this data.

Here are a few scientific journals on this:

Choosing the right colors

However, the important thing you need to understand is how to choose the right colors to increase your brand’s recognition. 

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as picking your favorite color. There’s a process you need to go through to ensure the colors you pick are in alignment with your brand and your ideal donors.

Here’s the process:

  1. Establish the tone of your brand
  2. Consider established color associations
  3. Pick your primary color
  4. Build your color palette

Establish the tone of your brand

The reason why color has such a large impact on your brand is that we associate emotions with colors. This means the colors in your brand will subconsciously communicate emotions to the viewer.

The best way to ensure you’re communicating the appropriate emotions is to establish the tone of your brand. Your tone will be most effective when it is intertwined with your non-profit’s mission.

Look over the following colors and their typical tonal associations. Find the tone words that best describe your non-profit. Then note down which colors are associated with the tone words you picked.

Red = Aggressive, Urgent, Passionate, Caring

Orange = Creative, Energetic, Enthusiastic

Yellow = Optimistic, Youthful, Attentive

Green = Relaxing, Wealthy, Growth

Blue = Trusting, Secure, Calming

Purple = Beautiful, Royalty, Mysterious

Black = Powerful, Luxury, Elegance

White = Pure, Clean, Sterile

NOTE: This list is not comprehensive and there are always exceptions. However, this will provide you with guidance as you explore which colors to use.

Consider established color associations

The associations we have with colors can extend beyond emotions as well. Many times colors tend to be associated with industries or elements in our lives.

Think about the first color that comes to mind if I mention the word heart. You probably thought of the color red or pink.

There are many of these powerful associations so it’s important to take a few minutes to think if there are already established colors for your cause.

To help you out, here are some typical associations we see with colors.

Nature = Green, Brown

Health = Red, White

Spiritual = Blue, Purple

Food = Orange, Green

Children = Red, Blue, Yellow

One additional thing to consider is cultural relationships with color. If your non-profit operates in multiple countries you need to be considerate of the associations each culture has with a particular color in your brand.

Pick your primary color

Now that you’ve established the colors associated with your brand’s tone and you’ve considered other color associations it’s time to pick your primary color.

This is the color that you will most often in your designs (website, marketing materials, etc). 

A note about Black and White. Those two can not be your primary color. Even if your brand uses a lot of black and white, you need another color to accent your color palette. 

Building your color palette

Once you’ve chosen your primary color, it’s time to build out your full-color palette. It may seem daunting to come up with your palette, but luckily there are proven methods to create great-looking palettes.

Complementary

Complementary palettes use opposite colors to create visually striking designs. You may consider using a complementary palette if your brand needs to be visually striking and elicit strong emotions.

Common complementary palettes are:

  • Red & Green
  • Blue & Orange
  • Yellow & Purple

Monochromatic

Monochromatic palettes use very similar colors to create a subtle, yet cohesive tone. The best time to use a monochromatic palette is if your brand is about building cohesion around an issue.

Analogous

Analogous palettes use the colors on a color wheel that are next to your primary color. These types of palettes provide flexibility at the cost of cohesion. You may consider this palette when you want your brand to have flexibility in how it presents itself.

Common analogous palettes are:

  • Red, Purple, Orange
  • Blue, Green, Purple
  • Yellow, Green, Orange

Triadic

Triadic palettes use three evenly spaced colors on the color wheel. These palettes are the hardest to do, but when done correctly they create some of the most memorable visuals. If your brand needs to be unique and stand out from the crowd you may consider using a triadic palette.

Common triadic palettes are:

  • Yellow, Red, Blue
  • Orange, Green, Purple
  • Pink, Teal, Yellow-orange

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.