Digital Marketing

Create a Style Guide for Your Nonprofit – Avoid Audience Confusion

There is never enough time for communications to go out the door. But when two different spellings of the same word (both correct) are used in a membership promotion campaign, or the way your nonprofit is described varies from letter to letter within the campaign, or your logo It appears in different colors and different sizes in different places, your audiences will be confused. The answer? Clearly defined style standards and published in a style guide.

The problem

Due to the ubiquitous nature of advertising and promotion, we are all bombarded by communications. Facing this swamp, you are making it difficult for your audience to recognize, at a glance, that all of their communication is coming from your organization. Remember, we are all scanners these days.

Also, those who acknowledge that these divergent communications are coming from you will likely not think much of your organization or your sloppy communication effort.

Consistency is the key for your audiences to absorb your messages and for them to “whisper down the lane”, repeating those messages to others. No other form of communication is as powerful as this natural network.

A style guide is a long-term solution

An easy way to ensure clear and consistent communications is to create a two- or three-page editorial and design style guide. Everyone should be on the same page when it comes to getting the word out. The standards that appear in your style guide will make it easier for you to do so.

A style guide will also make it unnecessary for you and your colleagues to reinvent the wheel every time, saving you a great deal of effort.

Action plan

Here is a step-by-step plan approach to creating or updating your style guide.

  • Distribute sample communications in front of you, including pages printed from your website and your e-newsletter.
  • Write down the standards that work best in the following areas. Keep your audience in mind when you do. You’ll want information from communications staff or consultants.

Traditionally, style guides covered punctuation and spelling. I suggest that you expand this concept to include graphic guidelines and key messages. In this way, you have a single point of reference to shape your communications.

  • Logo: Sizing; colors; position on the page; what elements should be included when using the logo.
  • Colors: official colors, with exact Pantone numbers if possible (Pantone is a color numbering system used by designers and printers) and notes on how those colors will be used.
  • Words not to use.
  • Word style preferences (for example, website vs. website, grant vs. grant).
  • The title of the published grammar style guide your group uses: Communicate the title of the guide that your writers should follow when deciding whether to insert that final comma or not, or select the correct preposition to follow the parallel word (with or with) .

Review these titles, talk to colleagues, and select one if you haven’t already. The best options are:

  1. The Associated Press Style Book
  2. The Chicago Manual of Style
  3. Words in type.

  • Talking Points for Staff and Board: Key messages that briefly cover the who, what, when, where and how of your group, and how they should be incorporated into most communications.
  • Positioning statement: The two or three sentences that establish your position in the philanthropic world and how it should be included, as a whole, in most communications.
  • Typeface (for example, all newsletter headlines are Times Roman Bold, 14 pt.).

Putting your style guide into practice

The next step is to distribute the guide and ensure that its contents are clear to staff and consultants. Remember to add your guide on an ongoing basis as questions arise and preferences are determined.

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