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Chapter 8: Why Nonprofit Branding Matters to Donors

Chapter 8: Why Nonprofit Branding Matters to Donors

Marketers frequently talk about branding, but what is it exactly? According to Seth Godin (an author, businessexecutive and speaker who’s in the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame), a brand is “the set of expectations, memories,stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or serviceover another.”1

Branding isn’t just for companies with something to sell — it can help reinforce a nonprofit’s mission, communicateits values and attract donors and supporters. Nonprofits should pay attention to their branding and implementpractices that will help capture the attention of prospects and send important messages about the organization.

Branding 101
These are the three hallmarks of branding2:

Branding 101

Strategy: Before you create your visual identity and messaging, keep in mind the overallplan for what the organization does and why it matters; this will guide you inall your branding efforts
Visual Identity: This includes the logo, graphics, colors and fonts used by anorganization
Messaging: A nonprofit’s name, tagline, mission statement and “elevator pitch”

A good brand instantly conveys the character and intent of a nonprofit. Strong branding enhances the goodreputation of an organization and makes donors feel confident that they are donating to a worthy cause and to anorganization with a clear vision.

Developing a Strong Brand
Start with the strategy of your nonprofit, which should be clear, concise and focused. Develop your brand to alignwith your organization’s values rather than the other way around. Building your visual identity and crafting thewords that convey the mission of your organization are two key steps to take when developing a brand.3
Developing a Strong Brand
Creating a Visual Identity
A visual identity includes the following elements:

Logo: Your nonprofit’s logo should be simple, eye-catching and versatile. Visualize yourlogo on business cards, a website and letterhead, keeping in mind it will be usedfrequently for years to come. Don’t try to cram too much information or too manydesign elements into a logo.

If you don’t have a logo already, or itneeds updating, have a professional graphic designer create it. While staff orvolunteers may be well-intentioned, a professional designer is worth the investmentin the long run.

Typography: Is your nonprofit staid and serious, or do you want to convey a sense of funand whimsy? Fonts go a long way toward conveying these messages. Your logoshould feature a simple font that’s easy to read, and your othercommunications should use similar fonts that work well with theorganization’s logo.

Colors: Find and use colors that work with your logo. A color palette of one to threecomplementary colors should be enough for a consistent and recognizable brand.

Graphics and Photos: Your branding guidelines can require or prohibit certain types ofvisuals and convey other rules. For instance, you might designate aprecise amount of whitespace around images, forbid the use of stockphotos, incorporate blocks of color or use ampersands (&)instead of the word “and.” These details set you apart to helpcreate a unique brand.

Written and Verbal Messaging
Your organization’s brand is more than just its visual identity. Branding includes verbal messaging as well. Hereare some key elements of strong written and oral messaging:
Written and Verbal Messaging
Organization Name: Often the mission of the nonprofit is conveyed right in the name. Forinstance, the names “American Cancer Society” and “Save the Children”tell you exactly what their missions involve.

Sometimes it’snecessary for an organization to change its name if its mission hasevolved significantly, or if the old name has become tarnished. Forexample, the Lance Armstrong Foundation changed its name to LIVESTRONGafter Lance Armstrong’s reputation suffered due to his illegal use ofperformance-enhancing drugs.

Tagline: Many nonprofits also have a tagline, often used in conjunction with theorganization’s logo. For example, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital uses thetagline “Finding Cures. Saving Children.” This brief line effectively conveysits mission.

The New York City–based organization PAWS NY employs alogo featuring a heart, a cat and a dog, and its tagline is “Helping People byHelping Pets.” With this tagline, donors understand that this nonprofit’smission is twofold. A good tagline succinctly reinforces an organization’smission4 in a way that’s easy to understand and memorable.

Mission Statement: A mission statement is one sentence that sums up a nonprofit’smission. Nonprofit mission statements should be unique and memorable.The sentence itself must be clear and concise, with no jargon.

Mission statements should include several elements: an organization's cause (who or what itserves), its actions (what the organization does) and its impact (thechange that will happen as a result of the organization’swork.5 This list of 50 mission statements selected from the top100 nonprofits list contains strongexamples from some of the most successful nonprofits in the country.

Elevator Pitch: An “elevator pitch” is a verbal statement that could be delivered duringthe length of a brief elevator ride — it’s simply a few sentences thatmake the listener want to learn more. Although an elevator pitch isspoken, it’s helpful to write it down.

You don’t have tomemorize it word for word, but you should have some version of anelevator pitch handy. In fact, everyone involved in the organization,including leadership, staff and board, should have an elevator pitchready for the next time someone asks, “What does your organization do?”

Brand Guidelines
When it comes to your organization’s brand, it’s important to establish clear guidelines and to communicate theseguidelines clearly to staff and board members. Brand guidelines include guides to both the visual andwritten/verbal elements of the nonprofit’s brand.

Visual brand guidelines include directives about how and where to use the organization’s logo and other assets. Forexample, you might specify that logo colors cannot be changed and that sub-brands can or cannot be added to thelogo (if your organization has more than one location or many programs). You can specify which colors and fonts canand can’t be used, and include other directives about icons and graphics.

Verbal guidelines (sometimes referred to as style guides or voice guidelines)also help shape an organization’sbrand. Perhaps you want to be perceived as friendly and approachable, and you want your staff to always refer toyour organization using “we” rather than “it” or “the organization.” Maybe you want everyone to avoid certainphrases, such as using the term “survivor” rather than “victim”. You might want to discourage people from usingphrases that you feel are cliché in your sector (such as “state-of-the-art”). Lay out all these specifics in yourbrand guidelines.

Employing Your Organization’s Brand
How, when and where should you use your organization’s brand? Use the brand wherever and whenever you’recommunicating about your organization: on its website, in written materials, on the website and in social mediaposts. In addition, your stationery, letterhead, business cards and annual reports should all be consistent withyour brand.

Widely Recognized Nonprofit Brands
Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, World Wildlife Fund, American Cancer Society and the American RedCross are among the most widely recognized organizations in the nonprofit world.6 These organizationshave strong branding that you can call to mind immediately. Their messages are clear and consistent, and theirbranding reinforces their visions. Take a look at these organizations and their branding elements to see how theycreate instantly recognizable and memorable brands.

What Branding Means to Donors
Branding assures donors that your organization behaves consistently. A strong brand fosters trust in anorganization and tells donors that you’re staying true to your mission and remaining focused. Consistent brandingcan help build community and excitement about a nonprofit7. Pay attention to your branding, and yourdonors will pay attention to your organization.

2 NonProfitPRO, “How to Create a Winning Brand Strategy (and Why It's Critical for Nonprofits)”

3 Nonprofit Hub, “Tips and Tools to Build Your Organization’s Brand”

4 The Balance, “How to Write Great Taglines and Mission Statements”

5 Nonprofit Hub, “Nonprofit Mission Statements – Good and Bad Examples”

6 Stanford Social Innovation Review, “The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector”

7 The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “Branding Can Help Clarify Mission and Attract Donors, Say Authors”

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