Understanding Charity Brand Guidelines: Everything You Need To Know
Let's clear up a common misconception - branding isn't just for commercial enterprises. Charities, too, can benefit greatly from well-defined brand guidelines.
If you’re a new brand in the sector, you might be thinking, ‘Do we really need company guidelines?’ No matter who you are, our simple and resounding answer is yes. Guidelines are an integral part of any charity brand’s success – they’re how you future-proof your organisation.
No matter the sector you operate in, a strong brand is what propels your organisation forward, and in the world of charity branding, a thorough set of guidelines allows you to shape how the public, donors, and volunteers perceive your cause.
Given that charities heavily rely on relationships with their supporters and fundraising, creating an image that resonates with your audience is crucial to sustaining your mission. This is where company guidelines come into play. They serve as the bedrock of your brand identity, ensuring a compelling and consistent image across all touchpoints.
In this article, we will dive deep into the world of charity guidelines, exploring what they are, why they matter, and how they can be harnessed to amplify the reach and effectiveness of charitable initiatives.
Brand Guidelines: Why you Need Them
The real question is, why don’t you need them? Clear and well-crafted guidelines are the foundation of a successful brand strategy. In truth, they couldn’t be more critical.
It’s in the name – guidelines are quite literally there to guide you in communicating your brand’s purpose, personality and promise. No matter the size or scale of your charity, consistent branding enables you to clarify what your brand stands for and uphold your brand image.
Not only do they provide a comprehensive roadmap for preserving and safeguarding your brand’s integrity from the inside out, but they also better enable your employees to properly create – and understand – your brand.
Behind the success of every notable brand lies a robust set of guidelines. Maintaining a consistent tone of voice, style, and design not only has a positive impact on brand reputation but adhering to these guidelines ensures that your charity exudes reliability and credibility. In the nonprofit sector, they are especially critical as they facilitate uniform collaboration among diverse departments, beneficiaries, teams, and volunteers.
They’re particularly important for fledgling nonprofit brands who have invested significant time and resources in developing a new brand, as they ensure a consistent rollout and more importantly, the protection of your brand’s identity.
The simple truth is – effective charity branding significantly boosts the potential for increased donations. Instead of solely focusing your financial and time resources on fundraising events and initiatives, it’s a wise and enduring investment to develop a strong brand identity that nurtures community, forges connections, and advances your cause.
Key Elements of Charity Guidelines
When initiating a branding project, establishing new brand identities, or embarking on a rebrand, it’s imperative to compile all your brand assets into a single comprehensive document. A set of guidelines.
This ensures that everyone engaged in shaping and upholding your brand image, be it copywriters, freelance illustrators, volunteers or shop assistants, can uniformly convey, communicate, and craft your brand.
Let’s take a look at some of the key elements company guidelines should include.
Your Brand Name
Your charity’s name is your brand’s first and most fundamental element. It’s not just a string of words; it’s the verbal embodiment of everything your brand stands for. This name is what your target audience recognises, remembers, and connects with.
Undeniably, choosing a brand name can be extremely challenging. With numerous potential directions, considerations about word associations, and language nuances, it’s crucial that your name not only mirrors your mission but also resonates with your diverse audiences and stakeholders.
In your branding guidelines, it’s essential to be as comprehensive – and practical – as possible when outlining the proper usage of your brand’s name. Not to be confused with logo usage – which involves visual elements – this section of your guidelines should outline how your brand name should be used in various texts. Specify case usage – is your name always written in lowercase, uppercase or a specific combination of both? Does it change depending on the platform or context? Can your brand name ever be abbreviated or used as an acronym? Do you use special characters, symbols and punctuation, such as hyphens?
It’s also important to address whether or not domain extensions such as ‘.org’ or ‘.com’ are ever used in your name and to specify guidelines for combining words. Be sure to provide plenty of examples to illustrate how your brand name should shine in various contexts, from headlines to body text and social media posts. As always, don’t forget to explain any exceptions and the reasoning behind them.
Craft a distinctive positioning statement that encapsulates your perspective, history, vision, and guiding principles. Although it may not initially appear pivotal in a guidelines document, it’s essential to offer a condensed insight into your driving force and the essence of your business.
Whether your origins trace back to England, Wales, or Scotland, be sure to include a brief overview of your positioning and the underlying motivations for your actions. This not only adds a human touch to your brand but also fosters connections with new users, allowing them to understand and engage with your brand more effectively.
Your Brand Logo
Your logo is the cornerstone of your visual identity. It’s the symbol that makes your brand instantly recognisable.
Your logo is everywhere, from your marketing materials and printed materials to business cards, your website, and more – and your guidelines should offer a detailed blueprint for how your logo should be presented across all these different touchpoints. This includes specifications on how it should be displayed, its size, layout requirements, colour variations for both online and offline use, where it should be placed, and even the necessary exclusion zone around it. Maintaining consistency in how your logo is used ensures that your audience can instantly identify your charity – no matter where they come across it.
It’s essential that your logo design is highly adaptable and your guidelines encompass the full spectrum of logo variations. This should include versions with and without a strapline, with or without a symbol, and so on. You should also display your logo against different coloured backgrounds and demonstrate how it appears in single-colour formats.
Most companies maintain multiple logo variations to suit different contexts. For instance, a detailed logo for large-scale applications like full-page advertisements and smaller versions for online use, social media icons, and letterheads.
Pay special attention to logo spacing, as the area around your logo – known as the exclusion zone – is as significant as the logo design itself. Be sure to provide guidelines with ‘x-height’ references, indicating the required space around the logo at all times and to specify the minimum allowable size for your logo to maintain visibility and legibility.
Typography and Text Styles
Every font, every text style, and every layout decision speaks volumes about your brand. It’s not just about letters and words; it’s about the tone, the message, and the experience you offer your audience.
Your guidelines should outline the specific usages of your chosen typography across digital and print media and should specify the following:
1. Font Choices: Clearly define the fonts you’ve approved, including their styles, families, and where to access them.
2. Font Applications: Detail how these fonts should be used for various elements, such as subheadings, headings, slogans, captions, and other text elements.
3. Text Alignment Options: Provide guidance on text alignment, covering left-aligned, right-aligned, and centred text, ensuring a consistent look and feel.
4. Spacing Considerations: Define tracking and kerning ratios to maintain proper letter and word spacing. Additionally, address sizing for both online and offline applications.
Never underestimate the power of your colour choices.
Colours have the remarkable ability to evoke emotions, and the colours you select play a key role in shaping the way your audience perceives and connects with your charity.
Each colour comes with a unique set of nuances and characteristics. For instance, red is often seen as bold and is associated with passion, anger and even health. Green conveys notions of growth and vitality and is closely tied to environmental causes. On the other hand, black often signifies seriousness and sophistication.
Your charity’s guidelines should meticulously outline both primary and secondary colours for use in all your materials. This involves emphasising precise colour values/codes suitable for digital applications, including HEX and RGB (Red, Blue, and Green) values, as well as the colours for print materials in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key) format, along with Pantone colour equivalents.
Keep in mind that your colour palette will be utilised across a diverse range of marketing platforms, spanning from printed brochures to your online presence, including social media and your website. With this in mind, it’s essential to take into account the variations in colour representation between digital and physical materials.
Tone of Voice and Messaging
Your brand’s tone of voice holds a lot of sway in how customers perceive and connect with your brand. In your guideline document, it’s crucial to define what this tone is all about. How does it align with your brand’s values and company mission?
Chiefly, you need to specify every choice you make in regard to language and messaging – and explain why. How do you speak? Does it differ from platform to platform? Do you have If you host a podcast, what is your delivery and language usage like? Unpick your vernacular so that your brand creators can talk the talk and walk the walk.
If there are particular words or phrases you’d rather steer clear of, make that clear. Be sure to define your preferred writing style, whether it’s a casual first-person tone, a more formal approach, or something else altogether. Also, don’t forget to jot down any unique phrases specific to your brand. This ensures that your brand’s voice stays consistent and engages effectively across various communication platforms.
Equally important is providing robust support to your content creators and copywriters so they feel confident when producing content for different channels. It’s a smart move to illustrate what has worked well in the past and what should be avoided. These examples paint a clear picture of what resonates with your brand and what falls flat. A straightforward list of dos and don’ts can be a handy reference.
Photography, illustrations, icons, and infographics are powerful tools for shaping your charity brand’s identity. Embedding image style guidelines within your brand guide is critical for establishing a consistent and compelling visual identity right from the outset. Consider the following:
1. Image Style and Tone: Define the preferred style of imagery that should be used. This could include guidelines related to photography, illustration, or other graphic elements. Specify whether you want images to be warm and friendly, professional and formal, or some other style that aligns with your mission and audience.
2. Subject Matter: Explain what subjects and themes are appropriate for your charity’s imagery. Ensure that images reinforce your mission and message while avoiding any content that could be potentially offensive or divisive.
3. Diversity and Inclusion: Emphasise the importance of representing diversity and inclusion in your imagery. Encourage the use of images that reflect the diversity of your organisation, beneficiaries, and the community you serve.
4. Resources and Templates: Provide links or references to image resources, stock photo libraries, or approved templates that align with your guidelines. This can help users find appropriate visuals more easily.
5. Image Formats: Mention preferred file formats for images, which can ensure consistency and quality in all materials. Common formats include JPEG, PNG, and vector formats for illustrations.
6. Source and Copyright: Clearly outline your charity’s stance on sourcing images and respecting copyright. Encourage the use of original or properly licensed images and provide guidance on how to obtain permissions or licenses when necessary.
7. Image Captions and Credits: Explain the importance of providing accurate captions and credits for images, especially when using photos of individuals or beneficiaries.
Implementing Charity Brand Guidelines: A Step-By-Step Guide
1. Have Your Guidelines Ready. Begin by crafting a comprehensive house-style document that paints a vivid picture of your charity’s visual and verbal identity. This should encompass every single asset, tip, instruction and guide necessary to consistently uphold your brand and should cover the proper usage of your logo, choice of typography, graphic design elements, colour palettes, tone of voice, language choices, spacing advice and anything else that your brand creators need to know. Be thorough, be consistent and leave no stone unturned.
If your charity collaborates with external agencies, partners, or sponsors, ensure that they also adhere to your guidelines. It’s up to you to ensure that your brand collaborators know how to put your brand assets to use, and a brand toolkit will give them the know-how to do that correctly. With a solid grasp of your brand’s elements and voice, designers, copywriters, and developers can all work with the same foundation.
2. Educate and Train. Next, you need to invest in educating your staff, volunteers, and partners about the importance of maintaining brand consistency. It’s always critical to have the buy-in of everyone in your company, so consider organising training sessions to ensure that your staff and volunteers not only understand but are proud to effectively implement your guidelines into their work.
Engaging your staff in the brand development journey is essential to fostering a shared sense of purpose, pride, and dedication. So, ensure the participation of senior management, trustees, staff, and volunteers in this process.
Ultimately, your guidelines are here to eliminate confusion, so it’s crucial to highlight that this document is designed to support your brand builders. By providing your team with a variety of templates and resources, you not only minimise uncertainty but also streamline their work and save valuable time.
3. Prioritise Accessibility. Prioritising the creation of inclusive and accessible brands is crucial, especially for charities that frequently support vulnerable individuals or those in need. Don’t overlook the needs of your audience, and be sure to invest the necessary time and resources to ensure that your guidelines are accessible to all.
This includes developing accessible materials, taking into account key considerations, providing an accessible colour combination chart, adhering to web accessibility guidelines and tracking essential metrics.
Simplify access to the company guidelines for all relevant stakeholders. Whether through a digital guidelines manual, a dedicated webpage, or a shared drive, the primary goal is to make sure that everyone can easily access the most current guidelines at their convenience.
4. Assign Responsibility. Whose job is it to oversee the brand and review content created? Is it an individual, or are various teams and departments responsible for their own section?
Whatever you opt for, be sure to designate a dedicated brand manager – or managers – responsible for overseeing brand compliance and ensuring that all members align with the established guidelines.
5. Evaluate Regularly and Remain Open to Feedback and Collaboration. Reflection, analysis and adaptation are critical to ensuring the longevity of any brand, so be sure to evaluate what’s working for your organisation and what isn’t. Conduct audits to make sure that your company guidelines are on-brand and not outdated, and review your toolkit regularly to make sure it’s up-to-date with your brand image.
Embrace the process of editing, adapting, and updating without fear. As your charity evolves over time, at some point, you may need to revise various brand elements. Ensure that your guidelines possess the flexibility required to accommodate these changes, all while preserving the essential core of your brand identity.
Benefits of Consistent Branding
All successful brands have one thing in common: consistency.
Sustaining consistency does more than just strengthen your brand image and enhance brand recognition; it serves as the linchpin for nurturing and perpetuating long-lasting relationships with your customer base. A consistently maintained brand is the cornerstone of customer relationships, imbuing a sense of reliability, trustworthiness, and credibility among your stakeholders.
Without harmonious messaging and a unified visual identity, it’s easy for your charity to get lost in the noise. Consistently strong branding tells the public exactly what to expect from your charity – how you help the people you serve, the donations you need, why your cause matters, and how they can help. Essentially, guidelines are there to empower you in fortifying your brand and eliminating any confusion – attracting more people to your cause.
Ultimately, people like to know who they’re donating to and why, and consistency in your brand experience will establish trust in you as an organisation. When individuals encounter your charity’s brand, they link it to the quality of experience they receive from your organisation. Ergo, consistent branding equals securing more donations. The truth is, if people feel they can trust you with their money, they’re more likely to donate to your cause.
Putting Charity Guidelines to Work: Case Studies
It’s always helpful to see guidelines at work, which is why we’ve compiled this list of nonprofit organisations that have excellent company guidelines.
Macmillan’s company guidelines are about more than just their visuals; they also encompass their communication tone and ethos, ensuring that all materials and communication channels consistently reflect their message of providing practical, emotional, and financial helplines to those facing cancer.
Macmillan’s iconic brand colours – green and white – are well-recognised across the charity sector and are embedded into their guidelines. Consequently, their guideline document becomes a dynamic symbol of their brand. By incorporating these brand elements into their guidelines, Macmillan bolsters their brand identity, cultivating trust, authority, and consistency.
2. Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research’s brand guidelines aren’t just a manual; they’re a powerful statement of their commitment to fighting cancer and uniting a global community in the battle against the disease.
Covering everything from logo design, colour schemes, illustration, photography, tone of voice, typography, and motion, these guidelines prioritise inclusivity and the use of positive language. Their emphasis on empowering and uplifting language sets them apart, reinforcing their unwavering dedication to combating cancer and rallying a global community.
This English charity is dedicated to empowering young people through the joy of reading. They offer books, resources, and support to nurture a passion for literature.
Their guidelines are comprehensive, addressing everything from logo placement and social media presence to the tone of voice and overall appearance, and are infused with the distinctive personality of their brand. Recognising that their primary audience consists of children and families, their document is thoughtfully crafted to ensure effective communication across all touchpoints with this specific target demographic.
Can we help?
Whether you’re diving into a rebrand or gearing up to craft your unique company guidelines, you count on us to help.
Our design agency has a proven track record working with charities of all shapes, scopes and sizes on branding projects that ensure enduring success and promise a competitive edge.
Reach out to us to chat about how we can keep your brand consistently aligned with a set of identity guidelines that truly convey your promise. We’d love to help.