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How To Build A Strong Brand For Your Nonprofit

June 8, 2023

You might think that branding is something just for for-profit businesses. But brand recognition isn’t important for just big companies. It is also relevant to your nonprofit. 

Chances are, you’re familiar with the missions of the Red Cross and Salvation Army. You recognize their logos and marketing. They achieve this through strong branding. Strategic branding helps people remember your nonprofit and dictates how the public receives your messaging. 

Carrboro Creative helps nonprofits by bringing their unique story to life with purposeful design that impacts the people they need to reach. Branding is an essential step in creating trust with your audience. It ensures that you stay consistent in your messaging and deliver your story clearly and effectively.  

What is branding?

Branding is how you tell the story of your organization to your audience. Logos, colors and graphic design help create a cohesive experience across the digital landscape for your audience. It builds trust and reliability for your organization no matter where it is experienced.

But branding is more than just your visual identity. It is present in your organization's story and personality. Branding also defines the behaviors within your organization and how it represents its values. 

Nonprofits use branding as a foundation for their website design and in defining their global identity. Branding helps you communicate the what and why of your mission to potential supporters and your community. 

Why is branding important for nonprofits?

The success of your organization relies on the contributions of supporters and the work of volunteers. Creating a strong brand that resonates with donors and getting volunteers to believe in your mission is vital to supporting your mission. An effective brand strategy will help you stand out from the competition and help build meaningful relationships with your audience.

1. Helps you stand out from the crowd

In a saturated environment, there are endless organizations doing good for the community. A solid brand strategy helps you position yourself in the market by showing how your organization is unique. Donors want to know how your organization does things differently. They are more likely to become interested when they can see how your organization makes an impact in its own innovative ways.

2. Increases trust and loyalty

When your organization is positioned properly and aligns with the right target audience, it will build relationships of trust and loyalty. This can lead to increased donations and more successful fundraising. A strong nonprofit brand also increases awareness, builds internal cohesion, and boosts your reputation. 

3. Helps you become recognizable

Aligned with the trust factor, being recognizable creates familiarity and facilitates the building of relationships. A solid brand strategy will help form the right relationships with donors, volunteers, and your community by creating a familiar face they can rely on. 

5 Steps to building a strong brand

1. Get to know your brand and your target audience

Before contacting a designer, take some time to revisit your mission statement and your organization’s values. Ask yourself what you need others to know about your nonprofit. Reflect on your successes and shortcomings and what you learned from each. Write out your goals and what you want your organization and team members to accomplish in the future. Contact your donors and volunteers and get their input as well. 

When building your brand, it’s important to know exactly who you are trying to reach. Building a target audience profile can help you define the vocabulary and tone of voice you use in your messaging. Knowing what motivates your target audience and what values resonate with them will help you connect with people that will eventually donate or volunteer. 

2. Research your competition

Understanding your competition in the nonprofit sector will help you with your positioning in the market. With this knowledge, you can leverage what makes your nonprofit different as part of your brand strategy. 

3. Build brand guidelines: colors, fonts, logo, tone of voice, visuals/photos

Now you’re ready to work with a designer to build your brand's visual elements. 

Colors are used in branding to create a mood. Use elements of color psychology to build a color pallet for your brand that represents the mood of your organization and mission. For example, Unicef uses light blue, a calming color representing trust and wisdom. When designing the logo for the Refugee Support Center, we chose blue to represent the loyalty they have to refugees around the world and yellow as a symbol of warmth. 

When designing their logo, they wanted to show their values of strength in the community and their global reach. Incorporating the energy from the sun in yellow, we designed a unique logo representing the human impact their mission has on refugees worldwide. 

Logos are used in branding to set the tone for how people will experience your brand. For Refugee Support Center and Unicef, their logos do just that. The Unicef logo is clean and authoritative and conveys the importance of its work on a global platform. The Refugee Support Center logo sets a tone of compassion and community. 

RSC Logo Embossed on Stationary
Refugee Support Center Acronym Logo

OWASA (Orange Water and Sewer Authority) came to us with marketing that had gone stagnant. They wanted to keep their logo for brand recognition but needed a refresh in the rest of their branding. The new brand utilizes clean, readable typography and colors reminiscent of natural processes. The branding included custom illustrations and infographics to help explain and clarify what and how water is processed for treatment.

owasa business card mockup
OWASA business cards featuring their new brand

All your visual elements are selected intentionally to participate in telling the story of your brand. Imagery and video are used to evoke a specific emotion. Nonprofits use photos to tell a story and to resonate with their audience on an emotional level. 

Visual brand elements are powerful tools in building relationships and becoming a memorable brand. Your designer will work closely with you each step of the way to create a visual brand that is purposeful and impactful. Creating a set of brand guidelines will ensure that your brand stays consistent throughout. Take a look at your existing digital and printed materials. Every online and offline interaction with donors, volunteers, staff and board members should be consistent. If not, it’s time to revisit these touchpoints and make some changes.

4. Tell your story. What do you want to be known for? 

Donors and volunteers connect with nonprofits because they believe in the mission and share the same values. How you express your values has to be clear. Use storytelling to connect with people on an emotional level and convince them to take action on a logical level. Storytelling is a powerful tool that builds relationships, creates trust and helps your stand out from the competition. 

5. Brand presence through behaviors. 

Your brand doesn’t stop at your website and brochures. Branding is also more than just a tool for managing the external perceptions of your organization. “At every step in an organization’s strategy and at each juncture in its theory of change, a strong brand is increasingly seen as critical in helping to build operational capacity, galvanize support, and maintain focus on the social mission.” (SSIR, 2012)

Your brand is also how its staff and volunteers represent it. Investing in in-person community outreach programs will also help spread awareness of your organization and build relationships. Community outreach shows your commitment to your community and builds your relevance within those communities. 


Building a brand typically isn’t at the top of the list for nonprofits. After all, your priorities lay in accomplishing a charitable mission and serving others. Although building a website is a priority for launching a fundraiser and collecting donations, investing in branding and design probably isn’t. 

A solid brand is essential to take your nonprofit to the next level, stand out from competitors and make impactful relationships. 

Schedule a free consultation with Carrboro Creative and take your nonprofit branding to the next level. 

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