Three tagline structures to bolster your nonprofit’s brand
Great taglines get you to think, feel, or offer inspiration—adding a little something special that reinforces an organization’s brand strategy.
Taglines are short phrases, typically eight words or fewer, that introduce your organization or project. It’s often most straightforward to start with the basic elements of your brand strategy when creating a tagline. Our team at Big Duck does this by distilling your positioning statement—the single idea you want audiences to know about you—and then finessing it with your personality—your organization’s overarching feeling, tone, and style—in mind. If you are working with a brand strategy framework other than positioning and personality, start with those basic elements instead. (Need more on brand strategy? Check out our ebook on the topic.)
While many taglines are catchy and pithy enough to stand alone without other messaging, it’s important to think about them living within a more holistic platform—name, tagline, vision, mission, logo, key messages, boilerplate, etc. Each piece works to build on or reinforce other elements.
In this way, taglines are helpful to fill in a blank about the organization or project that the name and perhaps logo are unable to accomplish independently. If, for example, its name is descriptive or communicates exactly what an organization does, then the tagline can add personality or elevate something that’s in the logo so that it all works together as a single unit. A tagline can contribute a piece of information that’s missing or capture a feeling that’s not quite there yet. While there may be an urge to put everything into a tagline by trying to explain each aspect of an organization or project’s services, taglines are really only designed to convey simple ideas.
From a high level, there are three buckets for tagline creation:
- Descriptive / Explanatory. This tagline describes the organization’s work, answering the “what” when the name doesn’t say much that is readily understood. The organization Keshet, for example, adopted a tagline that explains—For LGBTQ equality in Jewish life.
- Values-based. This tagline expresses why the organization does its work. It gets audiences to think and feel by sharing a powerful driving force. The Shriver Center on Poverty Law, for example, expresses its “why”—For economic and racial justice.
- Call to action. This tagline invites or inspires an audience to get involved in an organization’s work. It can be an effective way to attract donors or participants depending on who the tagline reaches most often. The Center for Constitutional Rights tagline, for example, galvanizes both donor and participant audiences—Justice takes a fight.
It’s not uncommon to think of taglines as just a few catchy words that are tacked onto a logo. But what makes some of them great while others are simply okay? Ultimately, a phrase that distills your positioning, feels like your personality, and accomplishes at least one of the above three things in as few words as possible is often a successful tagline.
In some cases, what really adds oomph to a tagline is when there’s a serious departure from the organization’s previous communications. This departure can be aspirational in a way that seems out of reach or bolder in tone than may be comfortable for all audiences. While they have long expressed a commitment to combating racism, a great example of dialing up a bold tone in a tagline is the YWCA’s use of Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women.
It’s important to remember that while a campaign tagline only needs to reach and inspire target audiences around a particular action or idea, an organizational tagline must be viable for everything a brand does. Set your aim and parameters upfront so that any organizational tagline you create has a long shelf-life, is evergreen, and lasts for the duration of the brand’s life.