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Working With a Nonprofit Branding Agency? 4 Questions to Ask

Your nonprofit’s brand is essentially a summary of your organization and what it stands for. Loop’s nonprofit branding guide defines the concept of nonprofit branding as, “the way an organization communicates who they are and the heart of their work. It’s a promise to participants, partners, and supporters and encapsulates why these people should believe in them.”

Your brand starts with your website. This platform provides the space to explain your mission and reflect it on a digital platform. The rest of your marketing materials will guide your audience back to your website for them to get more involved. 

Therefore, establishing your nonprofit’s brand is an essential part of your strategy. That’s why many organizations turn to web design agencies to help them solidify their visual brand. In this guide, we’ll cover four important questions you should ask yourself before diving into working with a nonprofit branding agency. These questions include: 

  1. What websites inspire you? 
  2. How would you describe your mission? 
  3. Who is your audience? 
  4. How do you give constructive feedback? 

This process will require your team to get introspective and drill down to explore the elements that make your nonprofit unique. But at the end of this journey, you’ll be left with a clear idea to guide your designer and help them create a long-lasting brand. 

1. What nonprofit brands inspire you? 

Before you start working with a nonprofit branding agency, you should have some ideas as to what you’re looking to include in your brand. This discovery phase allows your leadership team to explore other top nonprofit websites and determine what elements you like about those other brands. 

As you explore these other brands, consider which sites you like the best. Then, take it a step further by asking yourself what it is you like about those sites. This will provide tactical information for your designer to work with. For example, you might like elements of the site such as the: 

  • Logo style. Logos may be symbol-based marks, wordmarks, lettermarks, emblem-marks, or any combination of the above. Consider if you tend to gravitate toward one of the styles in particular and if it would fit the context of your brand. 
  • Typography. Different organizations leverage different fonts and text styles to visually convey the concepts they’re describing. 
  • Colours. Consider how the colours of the website make you feel and the natural associations made with them. For example, if you’re inspired by a conservation website, one of the major colours used is likely a shade of green. 
  • Image style. Are the images used on the website stock photos? Are they trendy illustrations? Consider how the images other brands use influence your emotions and reflect their mission statement. 

As you review the various elements on other websites, identify the styles you naturally gravitate towards, and think about how you can use different styles to represent your brand. For example, you might gravitate towards flashy, bright coloured websites. But, if your organization’s mission centers around calm vibes and anxiety relievers, it’s more in the spirit of your mission to use cool, calming colours. 

Before you enter into conversations with a branding agency, take notes on the different brand elements you like from others. Then, you can use these elements as examples in conversations around web design and your brand guide. 

2. How would you describe your mission? 

Your mission is ultimately what you’re conveying when you establish your organization’s brand. Therefore, you should have a clear understanding of your mission and be able to articulate it well for the branding agency you choose to work with. 

Be ready to explain your mission to your design agency and consider how your mission will impact the tone you’ll leverage as a part of your brand. For example, a trade association may prefer a more formal tone to reflect the professionalism of the organization. Meanwhile, an animal shelter may prefer a more casual, playful tone to reflect the playfulness of the puppies they rescue. 

Consider your organization’s mission and how that mission will be reflected in the form of your: 

  • Positioning. This is what makes your organization stand out from others with similar missions. It answers the question: What makes your organization unique? 
  • Personality. Personality and tone go hand-in-hand. Determine the adjectives you’d use to describe your content (sincere, inclusive, optimistic, professional, and fun are just a few examples). 
  • Overarching message.  Your overarching message should be an extension of your mission, used in taglines or in the stories you use to communicate with your audience. 

Communicate as much about your mission as possible with the branding agency you’ll work with. This sets the tone for your brand, ensuring your branding will reflect the most important part of your organization: your mission. 

3. Who is your audience? 

Determine who the audience is that you’re working to engage with your brand. To do this, consider who visits your organization’s website. Various audiences respond differently to your message and brand, so you want to craft these elements using the best practices that your particular audience wants to engage with.

Take a nonprofit dog shelter for example. This organization’s mission is to find animals in need, rescue them from poor situations, and find new homes for them where the animals can thrive in the future. The audience they’ll be targeting will therefore likely include the following: 

  • Young families. Young families often decide to get dogs, and Millennials are some of the highest percentages of pet owners! About 35% of Millennials own pets (compared to 32% of Baby Boomers) and 43% of those who don’t own them now would like to in the future. Families are likely to provide the stability pets need and as more Millennials get older, more will adopt pets. 
  • Homeowners. Houses provide the space for animals, particularly large dogs, to run around and get the exercise they need. Plus, homeownership also tends to indicate stability, which is key for taking care of pets. 
  • Other animal lovers. Appealing to animal lovers is not only key for this organization to find new homes for their lovable companions, but it’s also necessary to attain the donations the organization needs to continue operating. 

Replicate this exercise with your own organization’s audience to identify exactly who you’ll be speaking to with your brand. Your organization understands your audience better than anyone else. Carefully consider who your target audience is so that you can explain it to the branding agency and answer any follow-up questions they may have. 

4. How do you give constructive feedback? 

It’s rare that a branding organization will give you exactly what you’re looking for on the first attempt. They may get close, but chances are, you’ll have some revisions to the first iteration of the website and brand they provide for your organization. 

Providing effective feedback will ensure the final brand product will turn out to be what you envision and will provide an effective base for your nonprofit’s marketing strategy

Effective feedback is always constructive. Simply saying “I don’t like this” will provide very little direction for your branding agency and a negative experience for everyone involved. That’s why our team at Loop suggests using the “I like…I wish…” model of feedback. This model essentially provides the basis for your organization to express: 

  • What you appreciate about the design and the elements the branding agency shouldn’t change in future iterations of your organization’s brand, and why. 
  • What you wish would be different in the next version of your brand and how it can better reflect your organization, and why. This helps prevent a generic “I don’t like this” statement and focuses your attention on providing more constructive feedback. \

It’s ok to be picky and critical about the branding information presented to your team by the branding agency. Your brand is going to be used across all of your organization’s marketing materials, after all! But there should always be next steps that come from the feedback you provide. 

This particular model turns negative feedback into constructive criticism, which can then be turned into actionable results. If this type of feedback sounds foreign to you, consider switching to this model or another similar one to make sure you’re providing the branding agency with what they need to give you the best experience. Remember, they’re here to help you. They want your feedback! 

Getting Attention’s branding strategy guide explains that your mission, audience, message, and visuals all go hand-in-hand to help formulate the essential components of your organization’s brand. By determining your audience and message ahead of time and coming into conversations with clear definitions and information, you’ll provide the tools your branding agency needs to formulate your visual brand. 

Branding agencies can provide peace of mind to nonprofit organizations struggling to establish an identity that accurately reflects their mission. An agency will analyze the market trends, then use their experience and expertise to provide the best product for your organization.

Working with a branding agency can be an incredibly positive experience for your organization. You can facilitate this positive experience by providing the agency with what they need and preparing to answer their questions about your organization. Then, provide the feedback that will help them help you. Good luck! 

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Ryan Felix

Ryan is a co-founder of Loop: Design for Social Good who brings a strong intuition and insight to create bold, creative & impactful websites. Ryan has led design studios in Toronto and New York using his knowledge of Human Centred Design to increase meaningful conversions and design enjoyable web experiences.