Branding Principles for Nonprofits

Most of us by know by now how difficult a branding process can be. The slightest flaw in brand design will get duplicated onto thousands of banners, business cards, and other marketing paraphernalia. Branding takes work. It isn’t just a company name or a crafty logo that you see in ads or on products—branding is so much more. It’s not only the amalgamation of the company’s vision and goals, it also represents and defines the employees along with the customer community that the company serves. Basically, a brand is the external perception of the company as a whole, the “corporate image.”

Naturally, when we think of companies that have launched successful branding campaigns we think of the bigwigs like Coca-Cola and Apple instead of nonprofits like ONE and UNICEF. Like other companies and organizations, nonprofits must also create their own brand, just like for-profit entities. Branding for nonprofits is the key to their success, because a successful branding campaign gives the organization a voice. Creating a successful brand and identity to such nonprofits allows for those outside the organization to readily identify the organization via their cause. Today, I will share with you some branding techniques specific to nonprofit organizations by creating a fictionalized, cause-based nonprofit.

Nonprofit Principles

Here are some branding principles to keep in mind when designing branding materials for nonprofits:

  • Remember that nonprofits serve the community and rely on membership fees and donations, so the community and cause should be taken into consideration when making branding choices.
  • Nonprofits, nine times out of ten want to make a difference and have a vision/message that they want to spread, try to incorporate those messages and goals in your design.
  • Don’t overdesign, stay simple. Nonprofits aren’t about having catchy branding, they’re about aiding those who need it.
  • Decide what your chosen branding materials are going to be before designing. Some materials may serve some nonprofits better than others.
  • Most nonprofits work on some form humanitarian level, so make sure that your brand fosters a strong emotional connection.
  • Stay consistent, don’t tweak your branding elements for different implementations. Consistency creates trust and allows people to distinguish one organization from another.
  • Remember that most nonprofits do some form of volunteer or charitable event, keep this in mind when you’re creating branding materials, i.e. think hats and t-shirts

For this article, I chose to name my fictional nonprofit organization Yarn for Homes. Below, I have listed the organization’s goal/vision, tagline, and of course, their logo. I’ll describe the choices that I made and how much the organization’s visions, goals and community affected these choices.

Goal/Vision: The main goal of Yarn for Homes (YFH) is to provide handmade items such as blankets, hats, scarves, and various items to the homeless and needy families.

Tag Line: “Love in every stitch.”

Logo:

Color Choices

Color influences decisions, attracts or repels, and can make or break your design. Obviously, color choice—whether good or bad—can have powerful effects on your brand. As you have seen above, the logo for YFH is composed of three dominating colors, red, white, and black (the grey in the knitting needles is just an accent color).

Nonprofits must connect on an emotional level with the community it serves. Most already know that red is a strong color that provokes the senses, and it’s the chief reason that I used the color. Here, the color is used for passion, because YFH engages in a compassionate manner towards those in need. It is also the first color I think of when it comes to needlework. White, which I employed through negative space, creates the illusion of yarn strands on the yarn ball. White was used as a balancer, along with the fact that white is usually a color associated with purity and good, which is what all charities strive to be.

The organization’s name was done in black to offer contrast to the design, and because black connotes elegance, sophistication, and power. The black type,  surrounded by red elements, is meant to show that the organization holds the power of compassion.

Symbolism

Symbol usage is important, and it must be done carefully to provide the right impression for the nonprofit. Think about nonprofits such as Muslim Aid and Free the Children. Muslim Aid uses a crescent-shaped moon, which is a symbol with Islamic significance, while Free the Children uses the image of two children seemingly holding hands around the world. These two symbols not only emotionally powerful, but they also reflect the work of their respective organizations.

YFH simply uses the simple symbol of a ball of yarn for several reasons. YFH is an organization that provides handmade needlework to those in need, hence the yarn. Yarn comes in various shapes including elongated strands, but I used a ball for its globe-like spherical shape, as YFH works on a global level and not just one particular region. Workers and volunteers of YFH are also spread around the world so the circular shape also represents them as a whole. The needles don’t have any specific symbolic purpose; they’re simply used more to complete the image of a ball of yarn.

Typography

Type choice depends on your nonprofit, and depending on your group’s goals, the typography can be fun, elegant, or even edgy. For YFH, I used the typeface Adobe Garmond Pro. The Garmond typefaces are widely considered to be an easily readable typeface when it comes to printed media. It’s also eco-friendly, as it uses less ink compared to many other typefaces. Both of these attributes are important, because nonprofits rely on printed media for brochures, banners, flyers, business and greeting cards, along with other paper-based mediums. Adobe Garmond Pro’s look is not only sleek and accessible, it also gives off a consistent feel, which provides a clean and sophisticated look without being too fancy.

Branding Material Ideas

For branding material ideas, take into consideration what your nonprofit does, and remember that most nonprofits rely on printed mediums, so consider brochures, letterheads, and of course business cards. Below, I quickly whipped up a t-shirt, letterhead, and business card design as examples.

Conclusion

Launching a successful nonprofit branding campaign does not have to be hard, and the same goes for when it comes to creating branding materials. Always take into consideration the community that your nonprofit is serving, and keep your organization’s members and goals in mind as you design.

Have you done any designing for nonprofits? Have you encountered some unique challenges that aren’t found in the for-profit sector?

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  • Jessica

    I volunteered recently to create a website for a small animal shelter as a way to help out, and this article is excellent! I am seriously rethinking my design after reading this. Exactly the guidance I needed for this type of project.

    • http://digifaceproject.wordpress.com Gabrielle

      That’s wonderful news! Also thank you for the feedback. It’s great to know that my article could be some assistance to those taking a step in the realm of designing for nonprofits and volunteering endeavors. Best of luck on your project Jessica.