Guest Post by: Shea Baker & Matt Ulvila of 3thought, Inc, 3thought is a visual communications company based in Plymouth, MA that specializes in graphic design and creative strategy.
In part 1 of our series, we talked about how your brand is defined by the sum total of the emotional response people have to the way you present yourself. Because people have free will and you can’t simply tell them what to think, you need to take advantage of any opportunity you get to influence people’s hearts and minds. The pieces you do have control of are incredibly valuable. These pieces of your branding puzzle run the gamut ofrom fast, cheap and easy, to expensive, time-consuming and complicated.
So, first order of business when branding your non-profit is to put your best foot forward and start with the basics.
1. The Name
If you are starting up a non-profit organization, the first thing you need is the right name. Seems like this should be simple, but you should really give it some extra thought. Of course, your name should relate to what you do and why the organization was founded, but it should also be unique and memorable. “Toys for Tots” is way catchier and approachable than “The Foundation to Collect Toys and Games for Children” would have been. When selecting the right name, make sure to take the following into account:
- How does it relate to your mission?
- Is it easy to remember?
- Is it easy to say?
- Is anybody else using it?
- What names are other similar organizations using?
- Can the name be shortened?
- What is the acronym formed by the name? (we don’t want any South Harmon Institute of Technology going on)
- Is the URL available?
Now if you are part of an existing organization, you are probably stuck with the name you have but that doesn’t mean it still shouldn’t be an active part of your branding strategy. Make sure that the name is used consistently taking into account capitalization variations and abbreviations. Decide what shortened (nick names) and acronyms are acceptable. Make sure that everyone in the organization knows how to properly use the naming conventions.
2. The Logo
If you do nothing else as part of your branding efforts, invest in a professionally designed logo. You want to make a good first impression. Remember that if someone hasn’t already formed an opinion about your organization, your logo will set the tone and expectations. If you come across disorganized and unprofessional, you’ll have an uphill battle trying to win the confidence of your constituents. Come across as professional and organized, and you’ve taken the right step to winning over hearts and minds. If you already have a logo, give it a good hard look. Are you putting your best foot forward?
Here are a few logo don’ts:
- Don’t use clip art
- Don’t use photos
- Don’t buy or steal one from an internet site
- Don’t have it created in Photoshop, or worse, Word
- Don’t copy another organization’s logo
- Don’t have your cousin’s brother-in-law’s nephew who knows some graphics stuff because he pirated software from Adobe whip one up for you
Hire a professional and get a logo mark that is unique and you can be proud of. It’s long term value is immeasurable.
- Do chose a logo that fits the emotional tone of your organization
- Do have a logo that is easy to identify and read at small sizes (e.g.1 in x 1 in)
- Do get a vector version of your logo (.eps or .ai file) – every vendor you work with ever again will thank you
- Do have a version of you logo that can reproduce in 1-color – you’ll want to embroider it, screen print it, photo copy it, or cut it out vinyl as some point, then you’ll thank us.
3. The Colors
We all know that products branded in pink more than likely are to support breast cancer research and treatment. That’s a pretty powerful color. But did you know it is also a very specific color? Breast Cancer Pink isn’t any pink, it is PMS 203. Color is one of the key elements people will associate with your organization. When you have your logo created, ask your designer to provide a color palette that gives you the official color codes (PMS , CMYK, RGB) – and if all that is gibberish to you, take a moment to learn a little bit more about color formats) for those used in your logo as well as a few accent colors to support them. Use these colors whenever you create something for your organization. They can and should be referenced in Word and PPT, as well as used on anything you have produced by an outside vendors. You don’t want cranberry website graphics, cherry red flyers, burgundy polo shirts and maroon folders. Knowing and applying the codes ensures that the colors appear consistently. This is important for your audience that is building an association to your brand.
If you want to be viewed as a reputable organization, you MUST have a website. Let’s put aside all the fundraising, communication and community building benefits a website can provide for a moment, and focus solely on the fact that without a website you don’t exist from a public perspective. The first thing most people are going to do before deciding to support a new organization is to look for your website. They need to have something to find. And, again, this is a case of never getting a second chance to make a first impression. You want a first glance of your site to communicate that you are a trust-worthy organization.
Of course, the best way to get a professional looking website is to hire a professional. But we realize the funds necessary to produce a dream website are not always readily available to non-profits. But this doesn’t need to prevent you from having a positive web presence. URLs and hosting for your site can cost as little as $70 per year, and with all the do-it-yourself website builders out there, it’s easy to get your organization online.
At minimum, create one page. Use your beautiful logo and your official color palette. Keep the layout simple – don’t use a bunch of crazy formatting just because you can. Include a summary of your organization’s services and your mission statement if you have one. Give a short answer to the question “How You Can Help” so that visitors know what you want them to do. And most importantly, have your organization’s contact information. Other items you may want to include are a listing of your board/staff, a brief list of key goals or achievements and a few select photos that show your good work. But it really isn’t necessary to go nuts. You just want enough there to say, “Hey, we are legit and do good stuff.” The web is one area you can always expand as your organization grows.
*note- we will write more about creating a strong web presence in a later post in the Branding 101 series
Collateral refers to any piece (usually printed, but also digital) you create to tell people about your organization. This can include rack cards, brochures, flyers, posters, booklets, Power Points, postcards and even letters. More than likely, a non-profit will not have the budget to produce a large-scale collateral system all at once. It is something that will be built up gradually over time. And that’s okay. The key to making all the pieces work together is consistency. You will want to employ your logo and approved colors along with consistent type faces (fonts). You’ll want to pick a few type faces, usually a serif and sans serif, that will serve as your official type. If Susie sends out a letter in Helvetica, Carol should not send out a letter set in Comic Sans (and for the record, no professional organization should ever use comic sans for anything). You’ll want to establish some standard graphic elements that will repeat from piece to piece. Maybe you always use a thick header bar, or perhaps polka dots evoke the mood you like. All your pictures could feature a photo frame or a thin border.
Now if you are not working with a professional designer, simpler is always better. Just because you have a button that let’s you add confetti to everything doesn’t mean you should use it. The goal is to create pieces that when placed on a table together look like they belong together. This is not say that there can’t be variations as the purpose of each piece calls for, but you want to ensure that when Joe Public sees the piece, he will know instantly it is from your organization.
Want to learn more about Branding?
Join us at our next non-profit mini-conference.