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How to Build a Cohesive Brand Identity for your Nonprofit

What is a visual brand identity?

Your organization’s visual brand identity encompasses all of the visual elements that represent and differentiate your organization. This includes elements such as your organization’s logo, brand colors, and fonts, and everywhere that these elements are present – from your website and social media presence to documents, slide decks, and everything in between.

Why is a cohesive visual brand important?

The primary goal of building a strong, cohesive visual brand is to build recognition and consequently trust for your nonprofit. Over time, a strong brand will start to feel familiar and recognizable to those interacting with it. That familiarity and consistency are what will build trust with your nonprofit’s community and stakeholders. 

So how can you ensure that you are keeping your visual elements cohesive and consistent in order to build a strong brand? Here are three steps your organization can take:

1. Get clear on how your organization wants to be visually represented.

The first step in this process is to get clear on how you want your organization to appear online and in person. Remember that your visual brand identity encompasses every touch point where someone can interact with your organization. How do you want your organization to be represented at any one of these touchpoints?

To help you determine this, first, consider your organization’s vision and values. What is your organization trying to achieve? What kind of visual elements would accurately portray the vision your organization is building and the values it holds?

Next, consider who you are trying to reach with every touch point. Think about donors, sponsors, advocates, volunteers, and community members – what kind of visual elements would they expect to see from an organization in your industry? What kind of visual elements would make them feel seen, supported, or safe? 

2. Set your brand guidelines.

Once your organization is clear on how it wants to be visually represented, it’s time to define all of those brand elements so that they can be used consistently. This is called creating a brand style guide–essentially an instruction manual for how to visually represent your organization.

Brand style guides often include categories like brand voice, language, tone, etc., but for our purposes, we’re going to focus on visual identity. In that case, your brand style guide should include your logo and any variations of it, as well as any instructions or rules on how and where to use it. Your guide should also include a defined color palette (and when/how to use each color) as well as a font system. In addition to those main elements, a brand style guide may also include any custom patterns and graphic elements that your organization uses often. Finally, it’s also a good idea to include guidelines for image and photography use to ensure consistency.

3. Implement a brand system.

Now that your organization has a clearly defined visual brand identity, it’s time to implement those visual elements into your online and offline presence. The best way to do this is by creating a brand system that includes templates for any kind of document you might need to create. Again, think about any touch point that your organization has: website, social media, pamphlets, flyers, ads, documents, newsletters, emails, slide presentations, etc., and ensure that the brand style guide is implemented throughout all of them. 

Creating a system that incorporates templates that everyone in the organization has access to will help to develop and maintain brand consistency and work towards building a strong visual brand presence over time.

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