Benefits of a Nonprofit Brand Voice Guide

April 20, 2020
7 minutes

Howdy nonprofiteers! Please enjoy this guest post by our friend Kristi Porter, Chief Do-Gooder at Signify, with tips on how a brand voice guide can help donors understand and respond to your needs

Wouldn’t it be great if your donors gave you more money? And new donors were easier to attract and engage? 

It’s the dream of every nonprofit. Yet, sometimes I wonder if we make it too hard for them. Or—gasp—even blame them when fundraising gets difficult. Instead of trying every trick under the sun to nab a donation, or worse, throwing our hands up altogether, what if we had a frank conversation with ourselves? That’s right, the old, “It’s not you, it’s me” conversation.

There will certainly be times when donors change their giving priorities, don’t connect with the mission, or the timing is just off, but there are other times when it’s possible that we confuse them with our message or don’t give them a clear plan to act. We can’t control what they do, but we can certainly control what we put out into the ether.

So, what’s the best way to help donors understand and respond to your needs?

I’ll give you a tip. A shortcut. A tool.

It’s called a brand voice guide.

What is A Brand Voice Guide, And Why Do You Need One?

In its simplest terms, a brand voice guide is a document that outlines who you are, your main messages, what makes you unique, who your audience is and their needs, and how to communicate with them. It can get a lot fancier, but those are some of the core elements.

When you have a brand voice guide, you and your team are on the same page. Not only are you in step, but your donors (and potential donors) are in the loop, too. You can communicate in a way that’s clear, consistent, and compelling, and remove any guesswork for your tribe.

Without a brand voice guide, you leave communication to chance. Team members are left to talk about whatever is important to them, and donors could misunderstand your mission, how they fit into it, or what step to take next.

Still unsure you need one? Here are three reasons you should consider it.

1. You Stand Out from the Crowd

There’s something special about you, and everyone should know what that is. A brand voice guide allows you to shine a light on what sets you apart. 

By creating this simple playbook, you can develop your own voice—one that people begin to recognize. It has not only your specific services and products but your distinct vocabulary and selling points. When you can visibly define and articulate what makes you stand out, the right donors and partners will be more easily drawn to you. 

2. Everyone Communicates in the Same Way

Don’t leave your key messages open to miscommunication or interpretation. From what to include on your grant proposals to social media posts to writing your website to speaking engagements, everyone communicates the same way when a brand voice guide is handy. That’s because all of the essentials have already been outlined for them.

You might tend to think that if you say the same thing over and over again, it’s redundant and boring. And while that can sometimes be the case, you’re probably also assuming that everything you put out into the world is seen each and every time by your audience. These days, though, that’s not true thanks to email filters and social media algorithms.

Additionally, from the bottom of your nonprofit to the top, when everyone is communicating in unison, there’s a better chance of your message getting heard. By repeating what’s important, and in a way that makes sense for you, there will be no doubt as to the problems you solve.

3. You Build Trust with Donors and Stakeholders 

From grantors to individual donors to partners to volunteers, everyone who gives to you in some way wants to know that their investment is safe. Simply put: They need to trust you.

Consistency is one way to build trust, and communication is an easy, subtle, and highly effective vehicle for making that happen. Whether you’re communicating one-to-one, on your nonprofit’s website, or to a large crowd, what you say and how you say it matters.

If you only get one shot to share your mission, would you rather have one playbook to guide you, or let everyone write their own?

There are three ways to accomplish this kind of consistency:

Option #1

Only one person communicates about the nonprofit. This person has the communication keys to the kingdom. They write, speak, post on social media, email—you name it. Every part of marketing and communication falls on them, and only them. This person is likely the founder, executive director, or head of communications. 

The problem: At first, this may not look like a bad option. In fact, it may look awfully familiar. But the problem with this scenario is that it’s not sustainable. Even if you’re the only employee, there are times you need volunteers, board members, interns, and other stakeholders to help you carry the banner. But if these fine folks can’t be trusted with communicating the right message in the right way, or aren’t equipped to do so, your mission could become a burden.

Option #2

One person manages all the communications efforts, and becomes the point person for all fundraising and marketing. They may not be the only person communicating on the nonprofit’s behalf, but everything must have their stamp of approval.

The problem: Sure, this is a much stronger option than the first, but I still don’t think it goes far enough. Why? This person could quickly become a bottleneck, with everyone else waiting for approval. On the surface, it looks like a good solution, but underneath, everyone is frustrated by the waiting period and feels like there is a false sense of empowerment. Plus, the person at the top of the pyramid is overwhelmed, and might even be seen as controlling.

Option #3

You define your brand voice and create a guide that outlines your message and how it is to be used. In this scenario, everyone is empowered to talk about the nonprofit—and also has the tools to do so.

I don’t know about you, but I’d take door number three any day of the week. Yes, it’s still best to have a point person who is primarily responsible for communications and can act as the decision-maker, but with this option, everyone has the ability to spread the message in a way that works for your nonprofit.

How to Create a Brand Voice Guide

First of all, don’t let this process intimidate you. It doesn’t have to be beautiful; it just has to be functional. Though, you get extra credit if it is! 

When you put your guide together, here are a few things you should include:

  • Your mission and story
  • Your key messages (the “must-know” points for your nonprofit)
  • What makes you unique
  • Any words or phrases you repeat often (make sure your audience understands them!)
  • Your beneficiary profiles, including their wants and needs
  • Your donor profiles, including their wants and needs
  • The actions you want people to take
  • How you’ll communicate with your audience

How to Use Your New Brand Voice Guide

Like your favorite TV shows and Girl Scout cookies, your brand voice guide is meant to be shared. Once you’ve taken the time to develop this document, send it to everyone who communicates on your behalf. Make sure they understand what it is and how it benefits them.

Additionally, take a look back at your website, social media, and collateral to see what might need to be updated with this new information. You’ll undoubtedly find new opportunities to put this guide to work for you.

Once you have your brand voice guide in hand, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is for you and your team to communicate with donors, and as a result, allow them to understand and respond to your needs.

And if you’d like assistance, let me know. I’d love to help you communicate in a more clear, consistent, and compelling way. 

Kristi Porter helps cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, she’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.

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