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Branding a Nonprofit: 8 Essentials for a Strong Brand Strategy

Believe it or not, branding is not just for the for-profit sector. 


Branding a nonprofit can be one of the most powerful things you do for your organization. 

Branding doesn’t just mean getting a logo for your nonprofit, either. There’s an entire strategy involved before you get to the visual components of your nonprofit’s brand identity. 

So what are the essentials for a nonprofit brand? And why is branding important in the first place? 

We’re walking you through it all here! 


Branding for nonprofits brand identity book


Why is Branding Important for a Nonprofit? 

Marketing is constantly changing as the world moves to a digital space. Not only that, but marketing is harder than ever before, too. 

That’s because new tools, new techniques, and new technologies are added all the time. And the gurus out there are always preaching new ways of reaching your ideal donors. 

So, when you’re trying to keep up with everything that’s thrown at you, your marketing materials end up becoming noise to your ideal donors. 

And that’s not the way to go about getting their support! You want to stand out. Your nonprofit needs to capture their attention and keep it. 

That’s why branding for nonprofits is so important! Because with a solid branding strategy for your nonprofit organization, you can create the relationship you want with your ideal donors. 

Their perception of you changes. And when you prioritize branding a nonprofit, their perception often changes for the better. 

Suddenly, they’re thinking, “Wow! This nonprofit knows how to make a difference. And they’re showing me that I can help them do that!” 


What is a Brand Strategy for Nonprofits? 

If a brand strategy involves more than just a logo, then what is a brand strategy for nonprofits? 

Your nonprofit branding strategy is the plan your organization determines to help meet specific goals you set. For this case, the ultimate goal is to connect with your ideal donors, welcome them to your community, and let them know they can trust your organization. 

The overall brand strategy for nonprofits involves essentials to build brand awareness and brand perception. It’s what brings your organization to the top of your ideal donor’s mind when they think, “It’s time for me to support a cause!” 


What Are the Essential Elements of Branding a Nonprofit? 

With the understanding of what a brand strategy for nonprofits does, what goes into branding? 

When it comes to branding a nonprofit, think of it in two phases. The strategy first, and then the visual identity. 

So, as you start branding your organization, make sure you check off these items: 


Brand Strategy Checklist: 

First up, we have our brand strategy. This is the foundation of all of your visual components. 

If the entirety of your nonprofit marketing were a tree, this brand strategy checklist for nonprofits would be the roots. Start here to see the rest of your marketing flourish! 


1. Your Nonprofit’s Mission and Vision:

You need to know the mission of your nonprofit and the vision you hope to embody. Think of this as your “elevator pitch.” If someone were to come up to anyone in your organization and say, “what do you do?” What would you say on behalf of your nonprofit? 

Within your nonprofit mission, be sure to answer these: 

  1. Why does your nonprofit exist – what cause do you have to do the work you do? 
  2. Who do you serve? 
  3. How do you serve them? 

The key here is to make it as concise as possible, while still answering those questions. That quick blurb will resonate within your ideal donor’s mind more than a long-winded answer. 


2. Your Nonprofit Organization’s Values

If your nonprofit mission is the heart of your nonprofit, then your nonprofit’s values are the lungs. They breathe life into the mission. 

When coming up with your nonprofit’s values, think of them as guiding stars. You don’t stray from them. You don’t sacrifice them to get to the end result of your mission. Instead, you use them to guide how you get to the end result of your mission. 

For example, would you ever sacrifice empathy or compassion to help build schools in developing nations? If not, then those two may be some of your guiding values. 


3. Your Nonprofit’s Ideal Donor / Audience

Your ideal donor is who you want to appeal to. It’s who you want to go to when you need support to accomplish your mission. 

We always recommend having an ideal donor persona created so you can hone in on who you’re talking to in your nonprofit marketing efforts. 

Because not everyone wants to support your mission. So you shouldn’t try to appeal to everyone. 


4. Your Nonprofit’s Story

Your nonprofit’s story is the jumping-off point. It’s the catalyst behind the start of your organization.

So it’s only natural that you include it in your brand strategy because it can serve as part of the organization’s why. 

As you work on branding your nonprofit, be sure to collect this information and keep it handy. 


5. Your Nonprofit’s Voice and Personality

Finally, before moving on to the visual branding aspects of a nonprofit brand strategy, you need to determine your organization’s voice and personality. 

This is how you sound in your marketing efforts. You’ll need this as you move on with nonprofit copywriting. If copywriting is what you say, then your nonprofit’s voice and personality are how you say it. 

Do you want your social posts, emails, direct mailers, and website to sound upbeat and excited? Somber and poised? Hopeful? 

What are the words you want to use regularly? What are words or phrases that you want to avoid at all costs? Create a Google Doc with this information so you can reference it often! 


Visual Branding Checklist: 

Once you have the roots for your nonprofit branding established, it’s time to work on the visual components! 

These visual elements all tie into the roots. Without that foundation, your nonprofit branding runs the risk of feeling less than cohesive. 

But cohesion among all of your brand strategy elements helps you come across as an expert in your mission and cause. Plus it builds trust and loyalty with your ideal donors! 

So, as you get started with the visual branding of a nonprofit, be sure to reference your strategy often! 


6. Your Nonprofit’s Logo

If you closed your eyes and thought of a brand if we said: 

“Golden arches,” 


“Apple with a small bite taken out of it.” 

You probably know exactly which brands we’re talking about. That’s the power a logo has! The same goes for your nonprofit, too. 

Your nonprofit logo is going to be one of the most recognizable things about your organization. 

When your nonprofit team creates your logo, or if you decide to go with an outside graphic designer, be sure to think of how you want to use it. Will it be used in the header section of your website? Will you use it on your social media posts or in your nonprofit emails? 


7. Your Nonprofit’s Color Palette

A color palette communicates a great deal to your ideal donors. There is plenty of research behind color psychology that backs up the fact that people feel certain emotions when they see certain colors. 

For example, red often communicates health, compassion, life, and courage. It’s used for a lot of nonprofit organizations that primarily deal with health, such as Red Cross or American Heart Association. 

Blue communicates peace, harmony, stability, water, and trust. Make-a-Wish, Unicef, and Water.org all use blue as a primary color in their palette. 

Yellow is a bright color that communicates warmth, energy, or clarity. Take a look at Charity: Water, which uses yellow in its color palette. 

Green is often used for nonprofits that focus on growth, environments, calmness, and earth. Think of Greenpeace, Nature Conservancy, and Audubon International as examples. 

Nonprofits that are centered around causes for children and comfort often use the color orange. The Y and Care.org both do so! 

Colors play a strong role in the subconscious mind of your ideal donor. So it’s super important to choose your color palette carefully! You don’t want to dilute your mission or branding strategy by using too many colors. 

As you create your nonprofit color palette, try to limit yourself to 3-6 colors. 


8. Your Nonprofit’s Fonts

Finally, you have your fonts. Yes, even fonts play a role in how your brand is perceived! From the font you use on your logo to the ones you use on your nonprofit website, all of them play a role in how your ideal donor views your nonprofit brand. 

Above all, you want to make sure that your fonts are readable. Try not to pick fonts that are too hard on the eyes, otherwise people will quickly move right past it. 

It’s also a great idea to combine font pairings. This can create visual interest for your ideal donors, which increases brand awareness in their minds! 

Canva Pro for nonprofits has plenty of font pairing options, so you’re sure to find one that works for your overall nonprofit brand strategy! 


Creating a Nonprofit Brand Style Guide

Once you’ve nailed down your nonprofit branding strategy, and you’ve come up with your visual elements, it’s a good idea to have one single document where you keep everything. 

That way, as you create your marketing materials, you can easily reference all of that information! That will help your nonprofit team stay cohesive, no matter who’s doing the designing, the writing, or the publishing. 

You can quickly come up with a nonprofit brand style guide in Canva Pro. Plus, you can upload your visual components like your color palette, logos, and fonts to the platform. Whenever you create a new post or template, your brand kit will be right there to pull from! 

If you’re not set up with Canva Pro for nonprofits yet, you can check out this free training on how to do it! 


Snag Your Seat in the FREE Training on Canva Pro for Nonprofits!


Branding a nonprofit is a crucial part of setting up all of your marketing materials. It’s an incredibly powerful way to make sure your ideal donors are keeping your organization at the top of their minds. 

So once they’re ready to make a donation, they’ll think of your organization first!

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