Brand Bibles And Nonprofits
I’ve always felt a bit suspicious of branding agencies. Perhaps I’ve been burned a few times – spending too much money for a logo that didn’t speak to my work or hiring a company to produce a brochure that took six months to finish. Today’s DIY websites like Canva,MailChimp and Squarespace can sometimes make you feel as though spending money on branding is wasteful — particularly when you work in the non-profit space — but a good branding company will set your organization up for years of successful content. As Dan Pallotta reminds us: Charities are often chastised for spending money on branding and marketing, and yet the more donors are drawn to your brand, the more likely they are to want to get involved. It’s a concept that has hurt nonprofit for decades; how are we supposed to compete if we are criticized for spending money trying to?
Whatever your budget, working in the nonprofit space means that we have to be mindful of where we spend limited resources. One of the best investments of time and money a nonprofit organization can make is to develop a “brand bible.” According to Design Shack,”A brand bible or book is a document that establishes distinct guidelines on how all aspects of a company’s brand will be handled.” Whether you hire a company to get you started, or have the means to make it in-house, a good brand bible will live on for years, providing a foundational framework for everything you do in the marketing (fundraising) sense. Below are some issues to consider when generating content for your brand bible, and why the process will end up paying off in the long run.
Brand Bibles Help You Decide What You Aren’t
Taking the time to pull together a brand bible, no matter what stage your organization or company is in, can lay a road map for how others experience your work. This step can be critical, particularly when working with vulnerable communities whose stories are often exploited by the media. The students we serve hate the term “orphan,” so our brand bible asks that people be mindful to write “orphaned children” if and when they need to call attention to that element of our students’ vulnerability. I recently read an article written by someone who had lost her brother to suicide. She spoke of how painful the term “committed suicide” was because “committed” seemed to suggest that the act was a crime rather than a last resort for an unwell, desperate individual in immense emotional distress.
Words matter and much of the language that nonprofit organizations use can victimize entire populations or perpetuate painful stereotypes, so generating a list of “no go”s with your team and the people you serve can be a great place to start. Don’t overthink it, just start a list of sentence prompts like, “we are not” and “we never” and see how quickly your organizational culture takes shape on the page.
Brand Bibles Arm Your People With Your Message
If your volunteers, donors or board members are making up information about your cause on-the-spot, then you haven’t given them the guidelines and content they need to speak with one voice. Independent fundraisers on platforms like Classy or GoFundMe can sometimes veer off message in the most cringeworthy way, but a good brand bible will give your community the tools they need to be able to talk about the work and widen your network in a way that is both personal to their experience and true to your brand’s integrity. Charity: Water’s brand bible is a great example of this because it teaches supporters how to share its message in a way that is inspiring and “likable,” while also warning them not to make sweeping generalizations or portray people as helpless. A good brand bible empowers supporters to develop their own awareness-raising campaigns by taking the guess work out of the messaging piece.
As Nikki McArthur, the brand consultant behind Epic Danger explains, “a brand is so much more than a logo or a set of colors, it’s the way that a company or organization makes you feel. Whether I am on their Instagram or their website, that feeling should be consistent.” A good branding bible will keep that personality intact across time and space, regardless of who is doing the talking. It also cuts down an enormous amount of time when your team no longer needs to provide content, guidance and oversight to all of the well-meaning supporters who are promoting your work online.
Brand Bibles Help You Stay True To Message
Your organization is not going to appeal to everyone, and that’s okay. A good brand bible helps you stay true to your organization’s mission by ensuring that your message is always authentic. While it’s great to capitalize on timely holidays or relevant news, too many organizations feel pressure to participate in every social media trend. A brand bible can serve as a compass while you consider and develop fundraising activations that might be outside of your typical scope. If you’re building a school, maybe you launch a campaign around National Teacher Day, as Summits Education did, but you pass on National Donut Day, National Hug Day and National Cat Day.
Kristen Kalp, founder of Brand Camp, has a knack for getting to the heart of an organization or company and ensuring that all roads lead back to that heart. Once you do the deep dive into the real work and then lay it out between the pages of a brand bible, you will be more inclined to highlight the material that makes your work unique and less tempted to try and develop your own ice-bucket challenge in an afternoon. If your work matters, then your message matters, and strong branding bibles will give you the road map to communicate that message in the most powerful and effective way possible.