How to achieve brand consistency for your nonprofit

How to achieve brand consistency for your nonprofit

You've got a dynamite logo, a compelling tagline, and great messaging, but most of the time your staff goes about its business as if it none of that existed. What to do?

Consistent application of a unified visual identity and messaging is critical to building brand recognition. Over the years, I've found that nonprofits often struggle to achieve that kind of consistency. Because communications and marketing staff often are stretched, they may not be able to respond to every design or communication request and non-marketing people will end up creating the needed collateral. The result?

  • a social media manager posts updates with your old logo
  • a program manager sends out an event flyer using non-brand fonts or colors
  • an office manager creates a listing for a local magazine and doesn't include approved brand messaging
  • a member of the development staff creates an email using a template with an image and colors that have no relationship to your brand
  • staff, anxious to support a program or appeal with collateral, end up creating materials that are less than professional

These may seem like little things, but such actions can undo a lot of the work that goes into designing and building a strong brand. The best way to avoid such headaches is to create a culture that understands and respects the organization's brand. Here are a few things you can do to get you started.

1. Ensure that everyone understands the importance of a strong brand. It starts at the top. Leadership has to prioritize branding and lead by communicating the importance of a strong brand to everyone in the organization. It can do this by describing how a strong brand helps accomplish the organization's goals — from improving its reputation and visibility, to attracting more funders and participants, to expanding its programs or service area. Brand discussions at the board level should happen at least once a year, should focus on how the organization is living up to its brand promise, and should include a review of the organization's own position vis-à-vis its competitors.

Another way to elevate the importance of the brand is to appoint a brand manager and have that person report directly to the executive director, with whom he or she should have regular (at least quarterly) meetings to discuss how the brand is being positioned and maintained, and what kind of resources are needed to support the brand and branding efforts on an ongoing basis.

Another way to signal that the brand is an integral part of the organization is to make brand maintenance a part of everyone's job description. You should also look for regular opportunities to underscore the fact that the brand is a priority (e.g., at staff meetings and in memos).

2. Have clear brand guidelines. Having a brand style guide is crucial for maintaining the integrity of your brand. The guide can be distributed in print or digital format, posted to a website, or delivered as a slide deck or video. The key thing, however, is that it is delivered in a format that's appropriate for the intended audience. Typically, this might be a formal set of guidelines for marketing and communications staff tasked with creating materials and a more general brand booklet or video for staff and others who need to understand the essence of the brand.

In creating brand guidelines, be sure that the people tasked with using and enforcing them understand them. Avoid technical jargon and assumptions about end users' knowledge of design, typography, color palettes, and print and digital production issues.

3. Provide effective training. Just because you have brand guidelines doesn't mean that people will follow them. That's where brand training comes in. And when developing brand training for staff, be sure to accommodate differences in learning styles. For example, some staff members may be more auditory than visual in the way they relate to the world and may not be as quick to see the difference in how the logo, typefaces, or design elements are treated or realize when something is off. Communicate your brand guidelines in ways everyone can understand, and be sure to include vivid examples of do's and don'ts.

The onboarding process for new staff is a perfect time to introduce the brand and expectations for how it should be expressed. Don't just hand new employees (or volunteers) a manual and expect them to get it. Instead, make sure they know that communicating the brand, and paying attention to brand consistency, is an important part of their job, and encourage them to ask questions if they're unsure about anything.

4. Put systems in place to support the proper use of the brand. People can't use your logo, photos, or other brand assets if they can't access them, so make sure everyone on staff has access to the materials they need. A cloud-based server is an excellent way to ensure such access, but whether they're in the cloud, on your intranet, or posted to dedicated brand website, make sure your brand elements are organized in a way so that they are easy to find. Larger organizations may even benefit from a digital asset management (DAM) system.

Another way to support your brand is to have a person tasked with answering questions as they arise and someone else who is responsible for ensuring that the brand assets are maintained.

5. Showcase examples of good practices. Reward good behavior. Collect and share examples of staff using the brand effectively and be sure to explain why a specific use case helps the organization.

6. Encourage peer-to-peer support. Have those staff members who do a good job of following your brand guidelines and promoting your brand show others how it's done. In most cases, staff will be more inclined to listen to or learn from a peer than from management — particularly in cases where a regional or satellite office is involved.

7. Impose consequences if guidelines are not followed. If carrots don't work, you may have to use a stick. The penalty for non-compliance with organizational brand guidelines can range from a rebuke to a note on an employee's performance review. Before you go down that road, however, make sure everyone is aware of the expectations around the brand, has been trained in proper brand usage, and has access to the resources they need to comply with your brand guidelines.

Of course, there's always Plan B: outsource your brand and communications work to an agency or hire a freelancer. Doing so will eliminate the need for ongoing training and constant oversight of staff outreach efforts. It also will lighten the load on staff, who may be grateful to have more time they can use to help constituents.

Whether you outsource brand management or do it in-house, make a conscious plan and follow it.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Howard Adam Levy is president of the Red Rooster Group, a brand strategy firm that works with nonprofits, governments, and foundations.

The sustainable nonprofit

May 20, 2019