Looking in the Mirror: Does Your Brand Need a Makeover?

If you can remember back to high school, I’m guessing you can recall the economics lesson about design and branding. It probably went something like “blah blah blah, McDonald’s, yadda yadda, Coca-Cola,” and emphasized the boldness and omnipresence of multi-national brand titans, all harkening back to brand loyalty and the importance of good design. While there are some pertinent tidbits to take from these lessons, the rules of the game are a little different for nonprofit organizations without million-dollar marketing budgets.

Good design and strong branding are paramount to succeeding in any field. Particularly in the digital age, these elements represent the “face” of your organization and imply your values and mission—whether you plan on it or not.  And just as you may shave your winter beard or rethink a hairstyle, it may be time to take a second look at your organization’s design and branding.

First, it’s important to clarify the difference between the two. Design is the physical element of your organization, such as a logo and the accompanying aesthetics. These aesthetics include color scheme, font face, and so on. Branding is a more esoteric concept, imparting your organizational mission, values, and unique persona through a multi-tiered approach that includes design. Your branding influences your design, which in turn informs your branding. To ensure that your design and branding are both top-notch, let’s start by taking a look at branding concept.

When you first conceptualized your organization, what did you set out to do? If you’re having trouble remembering, take a look at your organizational mission statement. Your branding concept and mission statement should go hand in hand, with both emphasizing who you are, what you stand for, and what you aim to accomplish. As Laura stated in our prior Spring Cleaning article, your brand allows you to invite people to an emotional connection with your organization and is critical for partnerships, so careful thought should be put into this step. Once you’ve imagined your brand identity, the next step is to develop your design and graphics. The logo you choose, the colors and fonts you use, and the look and feel of your website should all express your mission, vision, and core values.

There are a few things to think about when considering the design elements of your organization. A good design will be unique, inspired, and refined. A one-of-a-kind logo with character will draw people in, while a refined design will be inviting and easy on the eyes. If you’re an establishment with an older logo and graphics, be sure that they are relevant and contemporary.

Advances in technology have left out-of-date graphics in the dust, along with the organizations that sport them. As the representational element of your organization, dated graphics speak volumes. Just as you might be apprehensive doing business with a dude decked out in a 1970’s leisure suit, funders may be similarly dissuaded from supporting an organization with ClipArt-esque design sensibilities. It may be worth reaching out to a professional designer. The expense may seem inaccessible at first, but making sure you stand out for all the right reasons will help you succeed in the long term.

Once you’ve settled on your branding concept and design elements, it’s time to do some serious branding. I’m talking letterheads, envelopes, stationery—you can even consider shirts and pens if you’re feeling crazy. While this may seem a little overemphatic, I’m not the only one jazzed on solid branding efforts. Your brand identity speaks to the integrity and viability of your organization. Whereas successful branding has a monetary value and institutes brand loyalty in the for-profit sector, cohesive and well-engineered branding can facilitate a sense of professionalism, inclusion, and trust for non-profits—both of which come in handy when asking for support.