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You might think branding starts and ends with a logo, but you wouldn’t be more wrong. Especially if your business has any digital presence, how you talk about yourself and your nonprofit work is just important as how you look.

In nonprofits especially, the market is often overcrowded with 100s of smaller charities having to compete with big nonprofits for audience attention, donations, and volunteering.

One easy way to stand out amongst the crowd is by having a distinct but appropriate tone of voice.

Tone of voice should be developed at the same time as your brand guidelines, and sits alongside your logo and color palettes and core essentials of your branding.

To develop the right “look” for your nonprofit you should think about how you want to be perceived, and how you want people to think about you.

A good way to start is by conducting competitor analysis, to see how other nonprofits in your space talk about themselves. Even if you focus on the same cause, your audiences and brand personality can be very different.

One cancer charity, for example, could be very clinical and focused on research and developing a cure. Whilst another cancer nonprofit could be warmer and friendlier, focusing on helping patients.

If you already have a developed audience it can be revealing to do some audience analysis, and conduct first hand focus groups, as to why your supporters like your nonprofit.

If you don’t have the ability to speak to your existing supporters, or you are developing a new nonprofit brand, ask yourself “what do we want to achieve, and how are we going to do it?”. This is crucial part of developing your brand persona.

There are often multiple answers to this question, and it can be difficult to know what branding route is the right one to follow.

For more tips and tricks on establishing a brand persona, this video runs through the most important questions to consider:

Once you have found a comfortable brand persona, your tone of voice will be easy to develop. If you’ve decided to present yourself as an authoritative nonprofit with an urgent mission, you should use action words and phrases that convey urgency. Using short sentences that invoke a feeling of definitive action is best:

  • Prevent climate disaster now
  • Create impactful poverty change
  • We need to act fast
  • Stop violence against women

If your brand persona is more caring and supportive you should use friendlier, softer language. Using inclusive words and phrases is helpful here too, to convey that you are “all in this together”. Using more adjectives and longer sentences is better here:

  • Supporting our communities in their time of need
  • Helping those most in need
  • By your side every step of the way through this difficult journey
  • Empower the most vulnerable in our society

Equally, your audience demographics can impact how your tone of voice should read. Talking to vulnerable elderly people is very different to talking to global leaders.

Often, nonprofits will want to develop separate tones of voice for social media compared to eg. fundraising materials, often a more casual tone – but the same principles apply throughout. Just make sure you maintain consistency.