How brand guidelines stop effective fundraising

Does your organization have a brand guidelines document?

I mean a document that guides the way you express your brand. Sounds like a good thing … it should be useful and handy. And sometimes they are. But in my experience, it’s more common for brand guidelines to restrict or even outlaw effective fundraising.

Here are some signs that your brand guidelines are anti-fundraising:

  • There’s a strict color pallet, and it’s all cool and/or pastel colors.
  • The logo isn’t allowed to be small or in one color — or it simply doesn’t work in those conditions. Sorry, that’s a big problem for direct mail fundraising!
  • There’s a lot of information about what you must not do with the logo. Common sense should be enough of a guide.
  • Inflexible font rules, especially if you must always use a sans-serif font in print.
  • Photos are not allowed to show the problem. You can only use images of aspirational success.
  • Eccentric photo treatment, such as arty edges on photos or unnatural colors of photos.
  • A long list of forbidden words.

These are a few things I’ve encountered in anti-fundraising brand guidelines. There are many more ways brand rules can be opposed to effective fundraising.

So when I get sent someone’s brand guidelines, my heart sinks. It’s usually bad news.

But not always.

Here and there I see brand guidelines documents useful guides to effective fundraising. Really! Those guidelines usually have thing following elements:

  • Focus on donor action. This is the most important thing to put in writing. If you know how to connect your organization’s work with your donors’ gifts, you are well on the way to success. Any brand guidelines worth the trouble of reading should have a section on this! In fact, if you had nothing else in there, this would make your guidelines a highly valuable document!
  • Guidelines for readability. They know their donors are largely older people, so they require larger fonts, high contrast design, and simple, clear layouts.
  • Guidelines for simplicity and clarity of communications. Most causes are complex. It’s important to know how to make your complexity simple. Having this written down for all to see can improve every piece of communication you’ll ever create.
  • Guidelines for images. Following what works in fundraising, not the personal preferences of insiders!
  • Usage guidelines. If you have preferred spellings, capitalizations, and usage of terms common in your work, this can be helpful.
  • The usual stuff. Font rules and color palettes — the bulk of a lot of brand documents — are just not all the important, and more likely make your fundraising more difficult than more effective. General guidelines based on readability and fundraising needs in this area is more helpful than a lot of rules.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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