Nonprofit Branding: This is the policy you MUST have!

Today we’re focusing on the policy that protects you from being forced to assume personal responsibility beyond your professional skill-set or administrative authority. Remember that a nonprofit’s brand is aggregate perception. It lives in the collective mind of its market. The brand cannot be controlled by the organization it reflects. But surely, every nonprofit can control the way its graphic identity is presented. That’s a basic brand-management responsibility!

If you fail to exercise that control, you may be tempting fate. Quick example: ordering or reordering your letterhead is a basic, everyday task requiring little thought or risk. Right?


What happens when the logo is in the wrong position on the letterhead? Or isn’t printed in exactly the right shade of blue? What happens when the printer fishes an earlier and now outdated version of your logo out of the files and prints that one? What happens when the logo is the wrong size or the envelope printing and the letterhead printing don’t match? What happens when your 10th Anniversary cutline is dropped from the logo?

No need to start looking for a new job. These are common mistakes – and simple to correct if the error is caught before public distribution. You just apologize to your boss, work out a re-do with the printer, learn a small lesson in brand management. Life goes on…..

But what if these misfires happen often…. or if the mailing hits the letter-shop and then gets to the Postal Service with the incorrect graphics. Then it is probably time to update your resume.

Keep this in mind – most printers’ errors occur because the customer failed to provide precise specifications to address issues that pop up during pre-production. A graphic standards policy will protect you from this risk. It governs simple and complex issues faced by printers and designers by presenting precise rules for reproducing your organization’s branding elements in printer-speak and designer-speak. (Read more about it – and why this is a matter of job security.)

If letterhead is a simple branding issue, what about complicated ones, like sharing identity? Consider issues faced by an organization that co-sponsors an event…by a national organization with local chapters…by a university with quasi-independent academic units, constituent-service groups and auxiliary enterprises…by collaborating organizations launching a campaign in which they all share a stake, while also trying to give equal honor to each logo and the organization it represents.

This is tricky stuff. But the same principle applies. You decide how  your logo will appear on your letterhead – or your printer will do it for you. Similarly, you make the decisions for co-branding situations – or they will be made by people in the other organization. Those folks won’t intentionally harm your organization’s identity – but they will surely protect the graphic image of the outfit that employs them, even if that does work to your disadvantage.

Let’s look at some examples. Each is an opportunity to get your brand out front.

Unless properly controlled, the graphic identity of the national brand will dominate that of the local nonprofit every time.

Each poses a different challenge to your organization’s brand equity. So this is the question: how do you keep your nonprofit graphic elements from being swamped by the graphics of the other organization, especially if its brand is better known?

BOOTH EXPOSURE: Coca Cola offers to sponsor a booth for you at the county fair. At the booth you will hand out inexpensive freebies along with pamphlets acknowledging Coca Cola’s support of your work. These materials will carry Coke’s logo – and yours.

TV EXPOSURE: A TV station wants to remote broadcast the morning talk show from your parking lot. It will spotlight your mission and give your Executive Director some air time.

PRINT EXPOSURE: The Nike company has offered to do the editorial and layout work and then underwrite a half page ad in the local newspaper about your nonprofit’s good work and Nike’s enthusiastic support of your mission.

Now consider the challenges to maximizing the benefits of these co-branding situations:

RISK: In two of these marketing opportunities your nonprofit logo has to stand up against the thundering graphics of two of the most recognizable and heavily promoted brands in the world – Nike and Coke. You need banners, flyers, posters and freebies that combine ABC Charity branding elements with those of Coke.

PREVENTION: Your graphic standards policy can reduce the risks by addressing dual-logo issues like these: Can your logo be juxtaposed with another? Should they be adjacent? Must yours be above? Below? How closely may they be spaced? How closely must their sizes match? How will adjustments be made to reduce graphic conflict between colors, between image densities, between sizes, between horizontal/vertical layouts, etc? The trick is to have a policy that confronts these issues BEFORE they arise

RISK: In the third opportunity your Executive Director will be in a tight video two-shot with the interviewer – a semi-celebrity brand herself who is carrying a microphone with a station logo. The popular interviewer reflects the station brand. Your nonprofit has no visual presence other than the parking lot and building in the background and your honcho is Anonymous Joe Citizen – a great guy, but hardly a branding element.

PREVENTION: Your policy can require that arrangements for TV coverage include a background graphic plus a commitment that the camera will sweep the logo a couple times. Better – have some still photographic slides of your work or even a bit of video tape available as a B-roll insertion during an interview.

You are in good shape if decisions about use of your brand have already been made by experts and then formally adopted as an organizational policy. Those decisions – your Graphic Standards Policy – should anticipate the issues you will eventually face and will specify appropriate solutions and outcomes for each one. It will guide and empower you to deal with situations ranging from simple functions like ordering stationery to high-impact activities like intense co-branding situations at public events. Maybe even better – the policy protects your job security!


4 thoughts on “Nonprofit Branding: This is the policy you MUST have!

  1. Pingback: NONPROFIT BRANDING: Some Comments About Your Job Security | Nonprofit Branding Blog

  2. Pingback: NONPROFIT BRANDING: Protecting Your Brand From Media Misfires | Nonprofit Branding Blog

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