Developing a Brand Voice for Your Nonprofit (and Sticking to It)

What sets your organization apart from others in your space? Developing a brand voice is one of the first steps to creating an identity for your nonprofit—a cohesive identity that supporters come to know and connect with through your marketing and communications.

What’s a Brand Voice?

A brand voice is a distinct personality that is present in your writing, helping to unify your organization and all those who speak for it. Your nonprofit’s voice will never change and should be carried through to every piece of writing, no matter how big or microscopic, that you put out into the world.

Similar to your other branding, your nonprofit’s brand voice is what distinguishes your organization’s marketing and communications from others.

Developing a Brand Voice

In practice, developing a brand voice involves deciding on your organization’s personality and noting handy writing and style guidelines to help your team stick to the distinct voice that you’ve outlined.

Consider your audience

Think about who your audience is and who you’d like your audience to be. Your brand voice should be able to connect with that audience in a meaningful way. If you have donor personas and/or other audience personas, start there to develop a voice that resonates with these prototypical members of your audience.

Why do they turn to you? What do they expect from interactions with your organization? What other sources do they turn to for information or inspiration? Use what you know about your audience and why they support you to strengthen that connection through a consistent voice.

Review popular content

Look at the most popular pages or blog posts on your website and other marketing channels to see what’s resonating with your current audience. How are they written? What descriptors jump out to you? While this may not entirely dictate the voice you develop moving forward—especially if your audience is shifting or expanding—it’s a helpful starting point to review what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t.

Develop a list of ideal adjectives

What does your voice sound like? Think of a few adjectives that you’d want supporters and those you work with to use to describe your nonprofit. Friendly? Informative? Passionate? Helpful?

Note your stance on common rules

The great wide world of writing styles and grammar rules is easy to get lost in. But to help keep your voice consistent across topics, authors and channels, it’s worth taking a stance on some of the more common rules that come up.

  • Are there any standard grammar rules that you’re okay with breaking?
  • What is your organization’s stance on the Oxford comma?
  • Do you use contractions?
  • Does your voice ever use emojis? Sparingly, on social media, or at every chance you get?
  • Do you try to restrict your use of exclamation points or pepper them into most communications?

Create guidelines specific to your organization

I’m guessing that you’ll have a few guidelines specific to your organization that you’ll want to ensure you talk about (or don’t talk about) in a consistent way.

  • How should you refer to your organization? Do you use “we” and “our”, refer to your organization by name, or as an “it”?
  • Does your organization as a whole take any clear political, religious or social stances that your voice would also need to adopt?
  • Are there words or phrases related to your organization or mission that you make a point to never use? What do you use instead?
  • Are your communications and other content typically brief and to-the-point or do you make a point to set the scene?

Document it all

This is where a style guide comes in handy. Plenty of organizations out there use style guides to keep track of branding elements, like fonts, colors, photos and even formatting. But style guides can also be used to document decisions and notes on your organization’s brand voice and include helpful resources for writing, like audience personas.

Consistency is the whole point of developing a voice. Deciding on and noting the guidelines and rules help you carry your voice through to all of your organization’s communications, as well as share the work with other writers inside (or even outside) of your organization.

Common Nonprofit Voices

A brand voice can be professional, friendly, informative, cheeky, to-the-point, thought-provoking, emotional or anything in between. But there are a few that I personally see all the time.

Friendly and approachable

For a friendly and approachable voice, writing conversationally goes a long way. It all comes down to writing how you speak and having a sincere conversion with your target audience. That means using contractions, avoiding complex sentences and sticking with an active voice sentence construction whenever possible.

Serious and professional

A serious and professional voice will come across as more clinical to your audience. You’ll want to follow all of the standard grammar rules and avoid using contractions. Steer clear of emojis and other devices that might lighten or add humor to your content. That’s not what you’re here for.

Honing Your Voice

This post is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start as you build out your organization’s brand voice and work to make it consistent across all of your marketing and communications. I’d encourage you to build on it over time as you produce more content, taking note of what works well with your audience and communications that fall flat. That can be through reviews of individual campaigns, pages of content or even a full website report.

To get additional perspectives, you might ask volunteers, staff or even your email newsletter subscribers what your nonprofit’s voice sounds like to them.

However you do it, developing and continuously honing a clear brand voice helps your community get to know your organization and what you do better by presenting a cohesive identity to the world. Members of your community become familiar with the voice you use and come to expect it from all of your communications.

Does your nonprofit have a distinct (and well-documented) brand voice? What was your process for developing it? Are there any additional guidelines that you’ve found helpful? Let’s circle up in the comments section.