4 Steps to Creating a Strong Nonprofit Brand (Case Study)

Dear Nancy,

Over the past year, our organization has developed several communication channels – website, print newsletter, mailed funding appeals, print outreach materials, phone system on-hold messages, an annual report, advertising in local papers, etc. As our communications grow, our need for a style guide is increasingly apparent.

We don’t have a guide at all now, and are challenged by the fact that we operate five sites in a total of three municipalities. In addition, staff members – from health educators to social workers – occasionally create their own outreach materials because they need the materials ASAP. We don’t want to hold them up by going through a huge administrative process but we do need to be consistent.

Thanks for any tips.

Debbie Grammer, MPH
Development Specialist
WHSI – Wake Health Services, Inc.:
A Community Health Center
Raleigh, NC

Dear Debbie,

Thanks for asking. The challenge you describe – how to make the most out of your organization’s marketing outputs, from different sites and staff members, conveyed via a range of media – is a common one. My advice? Create a strong organizational brand and make sure it’s used consistently across departments, site and marketing outputs, both print and online.

The challenge of course is how to create that high-impact brand and make sure that it is applied according to defined standards in print and online marketing materials to diverse audiences, by all marketing material creators without inhibiting the power of personal voices. The solution goes much beyond a traditional style guide (which is usually focused on writing style and grammar) to encompass these four steps:

  1. Make sure that there’s agreement, within leadership and key departmental staff, on what WHSI’s brand is. The brand portfolio includes:
    • Positioning statement.
    • Key messages for WHSI and for each of your programs or services.
    • Design guidelines on use of logo and WHSI colors.

    Remember that WHSI may need to implement audience research to develop a brand that resonates with all of its key audiences. Brand management (reviewing materials, ensuring consistency, brand application) has to be added to an employee’s job. That’s the only way to bring it to life.

    Many nonprofit staff members perceive the notion of brand as being far too “commercial” to be put to use in their organizations. Beware of this attitude! It is your greatest barrier to marketing success.

    Brand is simply the core marketing elements (both graphic and narrative) that, when used consistently, ensure that your nonprofit is quickly recognized and understood by your key audiences. Every nonprofit needs a strong brand.

  2. Discuss the communications creation process with your colleagues and, with input from representative staff departments, create a process for creation and review of marketing materials.You mention that most, but not all, communications come through one person. What happens before and after that person?
  3. Design and implement additional tools to make it easier for WHSI colleagues to develop or generate communications that do convey the brand.
    • Select a standard style guide (Chicago Manual of Style, Words Into Type or AP Stylebook) and dictionary as your standards.
    • Create a WHSI style guide on grammar conventions (whether to use serial commas or periods within acronyms), as well as specifics on writing about WHSI (when to use the acronym, if at all) and its work.
    • Create templates (in Word or the word processing program used by WHSI staff) for the most common communications materials. These may include a one-page flyer, tri-panel brochure on services, and a press release.Make these available for download so that your colleagues have a quick-and-dirty way of creating ASAP communications that are aligned with WHSI’s brand.
  4. Hold a training session, in which you explain what the brand is (messages, design standards, style guide, processes, and templates) and why it’s important to be consistent in using it.Include scenarios to illustrate how the communications creations process works, rather than just distributing the guide.Most importantly, make sure you convey that individual insights and voices are prized, but that they have to complement core messaging that’s crafted to enable WHSI to meet its organizational goals.

Debbie, I think this approach will work for WHSI. Sorry that I have no five-minute solutions but there are just no shortcuts with brand. Once you do invest the time in this process, WHSI will see the payoffs immediately in terms of response to its marketing initiatives.

Let me know!

Best regards,