Create a Style Guide for Your Organization

Photo by imelda via Flickr

One way to ensure consistency in your communication materials is to create a style guide.  A style guide can cover both elements of your written material (editorial) and the look of your materials (design). Don’t be intimidated by putting one together. You can create one that’s just a few pages long.

Getting Started
You may want to use a published style guide such as the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook (probably best for nonprofit organizations) or the Chicago Manual of Style as your base, and then make additions or changes as needed.  These style guides cover items such as when to use commas (red, white, and blue as opposed to red, white and blue), and when to spell out numbers (one) as opposed to writing them as numerals (1).
Choose a font that you will use in all of your materials. Serif fonts such as Garamond or Times Roman are best for print, and sans serif fonts such as Ariel or Verdana  work better for online materials. Whatever you decide, choose something that’s easy to read.  Here is some more detailed information on choosing fonts. The Best Fonts to Use in Print, Online, and Email
Your Organization
What is the official name of your organization, and what are the acceptable ways to abbreviate it? You could also include your mission statement and a brief history of your organization in your style guide.
Figure out language that is specific to your organization. Are you a nonprofit, non profit, or non-profit organization?  Do you serve youth or children?  Are you active in the African-American or African American Community. Is there any language you should never use in your materials?
Tag Lines and Key Messages
Include your tag lines and key messages.  If you don’t have these, now is a good time to come up with some.  Be sure whatever you come up with is clear, concise, and conversational. Write in the active voice and don’t use jargon. Include these in all your materials and revisit them (maybe once or twice a year) to make sure they are still relevant.
You can also use your style guide to indicate design preferences. Make sure you use the exact same colors in all your materials. Colors have PATONE numbers, which are used by designers and printers. Figure out which ones you will use – here is a guide to help you. Find a PANTONE color You’ll be amazed to see how many shades there are of one color. Having PANTONE numbers will be especially useful if you use more than one print company.
Decide how you want your logo to be sized and where it should be on the page. I recommend you keep your logo in the same place in all your materials to ensure a consistent, recognizable look. You may need to adjust sizing depending on the materials. 
Finishing Up
Once you have your style guide in place, go over it with staff, board members, volunteers, and consultants (anyone who might be communicating your message).  Make sure everyone has a copy or that it’s easily accessible on your shared server. When you hire new staff, go over the style guide with them at their orientation.  
Creating a style guide will take a little work up front, but it will be worthwhile in the end because your materials will have a consistent message and look. 
Here is an example of a style guide that uses AP as a base. VOICEOFSANDIEGO.ORG STYLE GUIDE

2 thoughts on “Create a Style Guide for Your Organization

  1. I agree with the need for nonprofits to create a consistent style. By taking the steps you outline here, I think that the marketing nonprofits can afford go a lot further with a consistent image. This is a great reminder, especially for small nonprofits@


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