Posted by Lisa Thompson


Newsflash: Your constituents are seeing others. As in, seeing other organizations. And other businesses. I hate to break it to you, but you’re not the only one in their lives.

These days, most people are bombarded with content from tens if not hundreds of brands—in their inboxes, on social media, on their phones. Everywhere they look, messages are coming at them, both yours and many, many others’. That’s why it’s more important than ever that your organization’s communications all be consistent in both look and feel. You want your audience to identify your brand at a glance and recognize your voice quickly, or you may get lost in the crowd.

This is where a style guide comes in. Does your organization already have one? Great. If not, don’t stress—you don’t have to write a book. Some organizations can create a sufficient style guide in just a few pages. Others may need something more comprehensive. But either way, this doesn’t have to be a complicated endeavor.

Remember: A style guide is your key to consistency.

With an editorial and design style guide, you can make sure everyone in your organization is aware of the dos and don’ts for everything from grammar to key messaging to visual elements. A style guide gets everyone on the same page, literally, and creates the consistency that will build brand awareness.

Here’s a step-by-step overview on how to create or update one:

  1. First, review your current communications. Spread a range of them out in front of you, including pages printed from your website, e-newsletters, your Facebook page and online fundraising campaigns. Don’t forget your printed materials as well.
  1. Identify consistencies and set standards. Jot down things like, “We always spell website as one word,” or “these are the appropriate ways to refer to our organization” (e.g., abbreviations vs. name spelled out). These notes will eventually become part of the editorial portion of your style guide. You can also take notes about graphic and visual elements and craft design guidelines that will provide designers with basic rules to follow when creating marketing assets.
  1. Write a usage policy. This simply outlines who (partners, volunteers, board members, etc.) can and should use your organization’s graphic identity elements, like your logo, and how.
  1. Get feedback. You don’t have to ask everyone in your organization for their opinions, but it’s helpful to get feedback from a few key people, especially those who will use the style guide consistently.
  1. Make it as brief as possible. If you can keep it to six pages or under, perfect. Your style guide will be more useful and less intimidating if it’s concise and easy to follow.

Section One: Editorial Guidelines

The purpose of your editorial guidelines is to cover topics specific to your organization that aren’t addressed in the published style guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style or The Associated Press Stylebook. By the way, I would recommend choosing one of the published guides if you haven’t already to use as your basic editorial and grammatical standard. The AP Stylebook tends to be less formal is probably most appropriate for your organization.

Questions of style, unlike many questions of grammar, usually don’t have a right or wrong answer. Your organization’s editorial guidelines will spell out your preferred style on several issues, which will help establish consistency across your marketing and messaging materials.

Some things to include:

Section Two: Design Guidelines

A strong visual identity can only be achieved through consistency, which is why design guidelines are crucial for successful branding.

Include elements such as these in the design portion of your style guide:

Once your style guide is complete and approved, it’s time to distribute it throughout your organization and get everyone on board. Buy-in is key. Be sure that people understand, your style guide is not a “suggestion;” it’s the standard by which all communications should be created. Again, adherence to your style guide will ensure the consistency your brand needs in order to stand out and get stuck in the minds of your constituents.

Your website is the perfect place to start in determining your organization’s style preferences. It is, after all, your marketing hub. Does your current site reflect the look, feel and tone you want your brand to convey? If not, maybe we can help. Simply request a free demo to see how your site could look on our content management platform.


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