3 min Read
August 8, 2012

Rules, rules, rules: Why brand guides are important to nonprofits

Sonny Mui

Rebranding your nonprofit, regardless of your organization’s size, is a huge project. If you’ve partnered with an agency or a consultant, you have an array of new materials–perhaps a fresh logo, tagline, or mission statement, or maybe even something as dramatic as a new name. You’re ready to communicate to your audience. Now what?

The next step is to create what’s commonly known as a brand guide (sometimes called a style guide). It’s a document that consolidates all the work you’ve just done (and more) into a single rulebook. It’s your organization’s go-to communications reference, a handy resource for your staff. “How do I use this new logo?” “What are our brand colors?” The answers to these kinds of questions should be easily found in your brand guide. It’s a great, centralized way of building institutional memory.

At Big Duck, we create “brandraising guides,” a jacked-up version of a brand guide that covers not only your visual identity, but your messaging platform and brand strategy as well. When possible, we like to include templates for e-signatures, Word doc templates, and other elements that everyone on staff should know how to use.

Consistent communications involve more than just design. It’s the materials you write, the words you speak, the templates you use, and more. And consistency is key. Being able to talk to your audience the same way, every single time–whether visually or verbally–makes you that much likelier to get your message across, especially when working on a tight budget.

Here are some things to consider when creating your organization’s brand guide:

1. Organize and design your brand guide well.

Treat the production of your brand guide as you would a major brochure project–leave time to write, design, and review it internally before you consider it done. If there are specific topics unique to your organization, include them. Add a table of contents so people can easily access specific topics, number the pages, and design your guide so it’s easy to read and reference. The final result might be a PDF–not a Word document–that you distribute digitally and print out hard copies of for reference (no need to have it professionally printed unless you have a huge staff). Your guide should exemplify the rules of your brand, serving as an example to others of how to use it well.

2. Assign a brand champion.

Whether it’s your executive director, the head of development, or a communications staffer, there should always be at least one designated brand champion in your organization. Your brand champion is the resident enthusiast on all things brand-related, someone who can answer questions and verify that all of your materials follow the terms outlined in your guide. He or she is also often the keeper of resources (artwork, fonts, logos, etc.). Don’t forget to include your brand champion’s name and contact information at the beginning of your guide, and make sure whomever you’ve designated is empowered to enforce the rules. (This role is probably not the best fit for someone who’ll be ignored.)

3. Schedule a training and share, share, share.

Once your brand guide is finalized and ready to share, you’ll probably have a very thorough document. Unfortunately, thorough might mean a 30-page behemoth. Who’s going to read all of it? Gather relevant staff, volunteers, freelancers, and vendors in a room, make copies of the guide for everyone, and walk them through it. People tend to retain information when they’re actually coached through something, and besides, in a room you’ll get their undivided attention. If you have a large document, you might also want to break up your trainings based on the sections within your guide. As you hire new staff or work with new consultants and vendors, be sure to send them your brand guide and give them a casual walk-through so that they also use it appropriately and consistently.

4. Keep it up-to-date.

Think of your brand guide as a living document. As you live with your brand and work with it over time, you may find that there are rules that you want to add, or things to change. There should be an area on the front cover to place the current month, year, and version number, so you can track the latest version of the document. And as you update your brand guide, make sure everyone in your organization is informed on the changes and knows what the latest version is.

There are even more things to keep in mind as you create a brand guide–what are some things that you would find useful?  Post a comment below.