Four Steps to Create Your Nonprofit Style Guide

Four Steps to Create Your Nonprofit Style Guide

Four Steps to Create Your Nonprofit Style Guide

Nonprofit organizations of all sizes struggle for consistent branding, imaging, and messaging. A style guide helps to define and set standards for the writing and design of documents. It is a tool that your organization can utilize to help staff and volunteers understand the best way to create materials.

Maintaining a consistent look and feel to your organization’s materials is important. Below are four steps that will help you sustain your organization’s style. Many in-house style guides also include specific graphic and design elements, but we’re going to focus primarily on text and formatting decisions.

Font Consistency

Determining a consistent typeface style, or font, for your organization is a first step to developing a style guide. For most organizations, multiple people will be creating materials, so ensuring that you’re using the same font will help your documents look the same. This will also protect you against any staff and volunteers who have a misplaced fondness for Comic Sans, Brush Script, or similarly divisive typeface styles. An extra step when developing your style guide is to determine when you’re going to use font traits like bold and italic.

Page formatting

Formatting is an important way to develop the look and feel of a document. Maintaining a consistent brand means defining how your pages will be structured. When will you use headers? Will you capitalize all of the words in your headers? When will you use bullet points? Will titles of pages be centered or aligned to the left? Do you want your company logo to be in the header or the footer? Answering these questions – and the many others that address page formatting – will help your nonprofit build a consistent visual aesthetic in written documents.

Define your key terms

Are there words that your nonprofit uses regularly that are open for interpretation? If so, it is important to define those terms with your staff.  How will they be used? What do they mean to the organization? What is the context for certain words? Ensuring that your staff are on board with usage is critical to consistent and long-term strategy. If your organization creates documents that use LGBT, LGBTQI, and LGBTQQIAAP interchangeably, you can cause confusion with your constituents. An extra step you can take in this area is to come up with organizational definitions for very the broad terms that may impact your organization. Even very common terms like poverty, climate change, child abuse, or elder care should be used consistently with organizational definitions.

Acronyms, punctuation, and demographic terms

Many nonprofits utilize an array of acronyms. It’s important to determine which of the acronyms will be used in a public communication. Your constituents will not know what some of these mean. Which acronyms should consistently be used and which should only be used for internal communication? Developing punctuation standards helps to save staff time by avoiding contentious internal debates regarding the role of periods in bullet points or why the oxford comma should always be used. Finally, discussing the preferred terms or options for demographic information is a key initial step. When asking a race/ethnicity question on a registration form will you use Hispanic or Latino? How many gender options will you provide? These questions will help ensure that minor details are streamlined.

These four tips will help you get started in developing a consistent communication brand. Are you looking for consistent nonprofit news? You’re in luck – our Tumblr is here to help. Below are additional news items from the last week.

  1. Mashable describes how nonprofits are borrowing from the tech start-up model.
  2. While transparency is increasingly important, Think Tanks lag behind on sharing their funding sources. PND provides the details from the report.
  3. Guidestar conveys five tips for a happier and more engaged Board.
  4. Give Local America celebrated the 100th anniversary of community foundations on May 6 by organizing local fundraising drives. Silicon Valley raised almost $8m.
  5. A collection of companies – dominated by tech-  pledged $10m to fight poverty in the Bay Area. The SF Chronicle has the details.
  6. Mary Cahalane shares a letter from a donor unhappy with the amount of communication they’ve received. It is an interesting counter-balance to the research that shows that a high rate of communication is necessary to create the multiple impressions that compel someone to give.
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