Has your nonprofit (re)considered its logo recently? Does it present your organization with the color, the terms, the attitude you want to covey quickly to an audience? For most nonprofits, getting a meaningful and professional logo carries some heavy ambivalence: Of course you want people to recognize your organization, whether they see the logo on a letterhead appeal for support or on a bumper sticker given out at a local festival. But if your logo is ‘too professional,’ might you be suggesting donors’ dollars are going toward a firm on Madison Avenue rather than to the community you want to support?
But a logo can make or break your outreach efforts, so you better err on the side of professional, or your nonprofit will be ignored in what is, alas, a tightly competitive fundraising market.
Think of your organization’s logo as the visual handshake that greets the donor, the volunteer, the newcomer to your website. And even good friends we often continue to greet with a handshake, which makes it one of the strongest and most meaningful of non-verbal communication. Get it wrong, and the meeting is off to a bad start.
There are plenty of lists of good and bad logos out there, and your organization’s staff should familiarize yourselves with them. Even then you should consider investing in a professional team who can come in without the prejudice of past discussions or expectations to consult with your staff. One useful set of bullet points that we found for considering a logo points out that the design should be:
- aesthetically pleasing
- simple enough for use with multiple mediums
- adaptable (color and black and white)
- communicates qualities of the brand
Prima facie, such qualities seem pretty obvious. But each requires experience and care. “Timeless,” for example, doesn’t mean you’ll never need to update your logo. It means you are looking for qualities, fonts, and colors that don’t loudly scream a certain moment in time. Scalability of a logo can easily be developed with vector-design software, except for the fact that scalability really means that the logo has an impact when a 70×70 pixel logo on a website and a 2ft x 2ft color logo on a banner at a fair.
One quality that we have often found lacking for logos, especially of smaller and mid-sized nonprofits is adaptability. The logo looks fine when two inches in diameter and printed in color, but when you want to photocopy a few hundred fliers on the cheap, the logo appears as a black and grey block of undifferentiated mass that loses any of its original expressiveness. Or, when scaled down, the text becomes frustratingly illegible. If such is the case, your organization will achieve the wrong kind of “memorable,” and the only qualities of the brand you’ll communicate are ‘cheap’ and ‘rushed.’
Don’t be fearful of the fact that some of these judgements are absolutely suggestive. Hannah Staton offers a list of some of her favorite redesigned nonprofit logos at AchieveGuidance, but I am not a fan of the new logo for the Campus Crusade for Christ. I would agree with her that the old logo needed a serious rethink (far to staid/Oxfordian for US college students to be interested in; not scalable or distinctive; never put your slogan in your logo…). But the new one goes rather too far as the initials mean nothing to me (why is it not ‘CCC’?) and though the cross is memorable, the colors are too similar without really reflecting anything a neophyte might understand.
But you also can not be held back by inertia from talking with your colleagues and with members of your community to see how your logo is doing out in the wild and seeing if there are ways to improve it. The logo is the first and most memorable way people will meet your organization. Don’t equate ‘frugal’ with ‘cheap’ when you need to make a first impression.