Guest Posts

Ask the Experts: Design and Branding for Social Impact Organizations

As a copywriter, I love talking words. But, in order to serve you well, I can’t ignore the visual side of your marketing and communications. So, when it comes to design and branding for social impact organizations, I can dish out some pretty good advice, but my secret weapon is the company I keep.

I’m friends with some pretty terrific graphic designers, and Jaci Lund of Treebird Branding is one of my favs. Take a look at her site, and you’ll see what I mean.

Branding and design for your nonprofit, social enterprise, and social impact company can probably feel a little overwhelming at times because you know it’s important, but your mission comes first. So, not a lot of time and dollars usually get allocated to your visual identity. Or, you’re so busy juggling more important things that you have no idea what the latest design trends are that you should be keeping up with.

If you feel like you’re out of the loop on this topic, Jaci is going to clear some things up for you. And, better yet, she’ll tell you where should focus your efforts. Sound good?

Ask the Experts: Design and Branding for Social Impact Organizations

Q. What are the latest trends in design and branding for social impact organizations?

A. I’d like to start with something a bit counterintuitive: Ignore trends! A trend, by definition, is fleeting. Mission-driven organizations like nonprofits and social enterprises that chase trends end up looking dated and out of touch within a year or two. Trends also are defined by the external zeitgeist, and your true north needs to be your own mission and vision.

So instead of chasing the latest trend, I’d say to focus on you and your target audience. You know what you stand for, you know what your audience responds to. Focus on that and ignore the noise.

Q. What is the biggest mistake you see people making in regard to design and branding?

A. I would say confusing a logo with a brand is something we encounter a lot. A logo or wordmark or tagline is essential to your brand, but it’s only a very small part of your brand.

The colors you choose also elicit very specific reactions. Your photographic style tells your story in the way you want it to be perceived. Your fonts, your website’s information architecture, all of these align with your brand.

When you only give power to your logo to carry your brand, you’re missing out on a truly holistic experience. And your donors, customers, and prospects will notice.

Q. What is your best piece of advice to those wanting to improve their social impact organization’s visual identity?

A. I’m going to roll with the counterintuitive again. You should be bored with your brand. That’s to say, your brand needs to be so consistent that it becomes ho-hum in your life.

Do you think the Nike designers love putting the swoosh on every sneaker, day after day, year after year? Probably not. But they get to design the sneaker around the swoosh. Those are the parameters.

You have to put your brand within a box, and then true creativity emerges within that box. But if Nike did a swoosh one year, a chevron the next, and then a representation of the Greek goddess of victory, how would you even know they were Nike? This also relates to the chasing trends fallacy. Be true to yourself, and your best-fit audiences will find you and stick with you.

Also, you are not your audience. You have to stare at your brand every day. But your audience has fleeting experiences with your brand. You need to always remind them of who you are and what you stand for. And that means consistency, consistency, consistency.

Q. What is one thing readers can do this week to improve their nonprofit or social enterprise’s design and branding?

A. We can all do a brand self-audit. I liken this to the Konmari method: If any of your collateral doesn’t spark brand, get rid of it.

There are a few great quotes from writers about this. Hemingway talked about having a “built-in, shock-proof shit detector” when it came to editing. Faulkner famously said “you have to kill your darlings.” All of that means you need to take an objective, dispassionate look at what you’re presenting to the world and make hard choices to edit what’s not on-brand.

Get rid of the precious and keep the essential.

Q. Anything else we should keep in mind?

A. Do less and remain consistent rather than do more and risk inconsistency. Branding is about focus and sacrifice more than about expansion and add-ons. A tight brand is a memorable brand. An expanded brand almost always gets diluted and confused in the minds of prospects.

Q. Do you have any resources that would be helpful so people can learn more?

A. It’s a bit of a dinosaur at this point, but The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al and Laura Ries is a standard for a reason. Also Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath has very sage and actionable advice.

Thanks, Jaci! Excellent info!

Jaci Lund of Treebird Design

Jaci’s quick wit, intent listening, and native intelligence come across as soon as you meet her—and carry over to her branding and graphic identity solutions at Treebird Branding, where she fuses strategy and sophistication, daring and restraint in just the right doses. With a dual focus on creating original branding for new concepts and revitalizing the look and feel of even the most-established brands, Jaci approaches each project with a fresh, thoughtful, and insightful perspective.

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Branding and design for social impact organizations doesn’t have to be complicated. These FAQs will tell you what to pay attention to and what to ignore to make the most use of your time.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.

How to Make Your Nonprofit Stand Out Online

Nonprofit friends - If you’ve been wondering how to attract more donors, today’s post will give you a whole new perspective. Right now, you’re out there trying to find new donors in all the nooks and crannies of the internet, at networking events, and in any other place a they might sit still for 10 minutes.

But what if prospective donors could find you instead?

It may sound like a dream, but Madeline Kardos of Candid is going to show you where these elusive donors are already looking for new nonprofits to support, and how you can stand out online in their eyes. This is such great information, and with a little bit of elbow grease upfront, you can show off your good side no matter where people are searching for causes they care about.

How To Make Your Nonprofit Stand Out Online

Your nonprofit has a well-maintained Facebook page and maybe even an Instagram account. You’re probably thinking, my nonprofit looks awesome online, right?

Well, not exactly . . . Although your social media accounts are important pieces of your organization’s online presence, you need to check out other places to make sure your nonprofit looks positively brilliant on the Internet.  


Donors want to know that the charities they give to are legitimate organizations. They also want to know how nonprofits use their donations. More and more, donors are turning to sites such as BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and Network for Good to gain information on nonprofits before giving.

For years, millions—that’s right, millions—of people have used GuideStar to research their giving. Today a service of Candid (GuideStar and Foundation Center joined forces in February 2019 to create a new organization called Candid), GuideStar amplifies your nonprofit’s online presence. If your organization is registered with the IRS as tax exempt, you’re already in the GuideStar database. (If you aren’t registered with the IRS, check into getting listed.)

Plus, if your organization is on GuideStar, it’s also on more than 200 charitable giving websites and applications—such as AmazonSmile, Facebook Fundraisers, Network for Good, and all major U.S. donor-advised funds. All of these sites are powered by GuideStar data.

But what do people see when they view your Nonprofit Profile, either on GuideStar or on our partner sites? If you haven’t updated your profile, the information in it will only be from your IRS records. You can, however, gain access to your profile and update the information.

Updating is free. It lets you show that your organization is more than an IRS designation (public charity, private foundation, etc.) or financial ratios. Updating lets you talk about your mission and programs in donor-friendly ways, keep the list of your board and leadership up to date, discuss your goals and strategies, and share contact information.

And when you update on GuideStar, you simultaneously update your information on our 200+ partner sites, all in one go.

Here’s a quick example. I once assisted a man who had spent six months correcting his organization’s address on 80 different websites. Unfortunately for him, GuideStar was his last stop. If he had come to GuideStar six months sooner, all 80 (and more!) of those websites would have been updated much, much faster. Plus, he would have corrected his address on popular crowdfunding sites like Facebook Fundraisers, so if he received a check it would be sent to the right place. 

Enough talk, right? Let’s get down to what you can do NOW to make your nonprofit stand out online.


1.  Gain Access to Your Nonprofit Profile

Start by becoming a manager for your organization’s profile. For security purposes, we approve who receives access to each profile. Get started with this step-by-step guide.

Please note, we strongly recommend that you create an account on GuideStar using an email address associated with your organization. This proves to us that you’re connected to your organization in the easiest fashion. For example, if I wanted to gain access to Candid’s profile I would use my email instead of my Gmail address.

Claim Your Profile


2.  Earn a GuideStar Seal of Transparency

As you update, you’ll receive one of our Seals of Transparency. The Seals are based on the information that funders and donors need to make informed giving decisions.

There are four Seals:

  • Bronze provides basic information (i.e., primary contacts, program descriptions, etc.)

  • Silver shows your basic finances

  • Gold explains your long-term goals

  • Platinum illustrates the progress that you’ve made year to year

The amount of information you add to your profile determines which Seal you receive. Once you earn a Seal, you can post it on your website and include it in your marketing materials to demonstrate your commitment to transparency.

Unsure where to start? We have resources for you! Check out what’s needed to earn a Seal of Transparency for your nonprofit. Even better, if you want to draft your responses before adding them to your profile, here’s a profile template you can share with peers or pass along to your executive director.  

Learn More

3.  Share Your Good Work

After you update your profile, let the world know! The more you promote your profile, the more recognition it will receive. Once you earn a Seal of Transparency, you have the ability to share an image of the Seal on your website or in print publications. Plus, we have sample social media posts and press releases for you to use!  



Once you’ve updated your Nonprofit Profile on GuideStar, your organization will look radiant on not only on Facebook and Instagram, but also on 200+ charitable websites and applications. Updating your profile is a major step forward in creating a positive online presence for your nonprofit and will help potential donors and funders learn more about your organization.

Although we’ve reached the end of this blog post, it’s not where we part ways. You can always reach out to us for help while gaining access to or updating your profile by visiting We hope to hear from you soon!

Madeline Kardos,

Madeline Kardos is the marketing and communications associate for Candid. She writes all kinds of content and leads trainings to teach nonprofits how to update their Nonprofit Profiles on GuideStar.

Before joining the nonprofit world, Madeline started in content marketing, writing for companies in San Francisco, CA.

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Make sure prospective donors can find you! Learn about where they’re looking online for nonprofits to support, and how your organization can stand out.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.

Small Businesses, Charitable Contributions, and the IRS

No one really likes to think about paying taxes, but everyone likes to think about tax deductions. And for you small business owners who want to give back, but still need to mind your budget, my friend, Deb Meyer, has some great advice for you.

As you know, I’m a big fan of small businesses partnering with nonprofits and the for-profit social enterprise model. Each is a terrific way to make money and do good. So, if you fall into one of those two categories, Deb will give you the low-down on what charitable contributions look like for businesses, including examples to make it clear.

And for the nonprofits reading this post, she’ll also give you some tips for working with donors to keep them happy and informed.

Tax time doesn’t have to be your favorite time, but this will certainly make it easier. And if you can get a little reward for being kind, why not?

Small Businesses, Charitable Contributions, and the IRS

As a CPA financial planner, I’m well-versed in charitable giving strategies for individuals. If you give personally to a charitable cause and itemize deductions, there’s an added benefit of your generosity: a tax deduction! 

But what if you’re a social enterprise or small business owner who wants to use the business to give back? The rules aren’t quite as straightforward as they are for individuals. Even nonprofits can benefit from learning these rules and share them with potential donors.

Definition of Business Expense

From a tax standpoint, your business expense must be ordinary and necessary. Ordinary means the expense is common and widely accepted in your business. On a related note, a necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your business.

Let’s dive further into IRS Publication 535 for guidance on whether charitable contributions are deductible business expenses. Cash payments to an organization, charitable or otherwise, may be deductible as business expenses if the payments aren’t charitable contributions or gifts and are directly related to your business. It is a bit counterintuitive, don’t you agree?

As an individual, you make a charitable contribution out of the kindness of your heart and may receive an additional tax benefit as a bonus. Within a corporate environment, generosity is not the name of the game.  Rather, there should be a business motive behind the transaction.

3 Examples of Deductible Business Expenses


Your roofing business wants to run an advertisement in your church’s bulletin and the cost is $1,000 for the year. You pursue the ad because your business is looking to grow its customer base. The business is eligible for a $1,000 tax deduction, just like any other marketing expense.


One of your clients runs an annual golf tournament to honor the life of her deceased son. You, a small business owner, are invited to attend the golf tournament. You buy a single ticket to play in a foursome. Is your ticket cost tax deductible on the business return?

Probably not, unless you can provide a reason for the business purpose behind the event. 

Rather, take your “business” hat off for a moment and see if this qualifies for a personal charitable contribution. Look at the value received from your ticket. The tax-deductible amount is the portion in excess of the value received (i.e. if the ticket cost is $80 and value received is $50, you could claim $30 of charitable contribution on Schedule A of your personal tax return).

The better option in this scenario? Your company could sponsor a hole or provide an item for the silent auction. That cost is fully tax deductible for the business because sponsorship is a marketing tool. 


Your brick-and-mortar store is suffering due to lack of foot traffic. The local Chamber of Commerce unleashes a solid plan to increase the number of visitors within a one-mile radius of your business. Your business gives $5,000 to support this excellent initiative. There is a marketing purpose behind this expense, so it is considered tax deductible.

Commonalities Among Deductible Business Expenses

In each of the examples above, there is a common thread for the small business owner to claim a tax deduction: advertising. For-profit businesses are in business to make money.

Advertising or marketing expenses are deductible because they increase brand awareness. Sales increase as more people learn of your business service or product. 

Just because you own a for-profit business does not mean you need to leave your philanthropic heart at the door. In fact, profitable small business owners can give at even greater levels than traditional employees. Your business has unlimited earnings potential! 

Additionally, as demonstrated in the second example, a charitable contribution with no business purpose may be tax-deductible personally. 

Claiming Personal Charitable Deductions

Unless your business is classified as a C Corporation, the underlying business profit eventually flows to your personal U.S. income tax return. Sole proprietors file Schedule C of the federal form 1040, while business partners in a partnership generate Schedule K-1s from their business tax return.

One of my clients runs a pizza franchise, and they periodically donate old inventory to a nonprofit organization. The business doesn’t receive any publicity from these donations, so we do not deduct the cost of donated inventory on the business tax return. Nonetheless, we take the value of the charitable contribution and report it on Schedule A of the business owner’s personal tax return.

How the TCJA Impacts Charitable Contributions

Sweeping U.S. tax reform, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed late in December 2017 and took effect for the 2018 tax year. This groundbreaking law welcomed a host of tax-related changes, most notably the increase of the standard deduction on personal tax returns to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. 

Although actual figures are not yet in, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that only 12% of U.S. taxpayers will itemize deductions for the 2018 tax year.

This is especially concerning to nonprofits who rely on financial support from individuals and businesses alike. You no longer receive a personal tax break for charitable contributions if you take the standard deduction. While that won’t deter all families from giving, it may result in lower overall contributions.

Thus, BIGGER IS BETTER. There are smart ways for individuals to stack their charitable contributions in one tax year (to get the deduction) and then decrease their giving in the subsequent tax year.

Alternatively, donor advised funds are great tools for families who want to give substantially to one or more charities over several years and ensure they receive a tax deduction. Consult this article for additional strategies to maximize personal charitable contributions.

Action Items for Nonprofits

What is a nonprofit organization supposed to do with this information?

First and foremost, educate. 

Help current and potential donors understand the rules around charitable giving—both personally and within a for-profit business structure. Provide concrete examples for them, specifying when it may be OK to claim a tax deduction.

If you’d rather not provide examples for liability reasons, point donors to this article or to a qualified tax or financial professional. This professional should be carefully vetted in advance to provide deeper guidance on the nuances of charitable contributions.  

You Can Be Kind and Still Get a Tax Break

Knowledge is power. It pains me to tell a new client that his or her business charitable contribution does not qualify as a tax deduction. There are ways to give back and legitimately claim the tax break, but you must know the rules. 

Having read this article in its entirety, you now understand the basics. Now go and share them! 

Deb Meyer

Deborah L. Meyer, CPA/PFS and CFP®, is a fee-only financial planner and the author of Redefining Family Wealth: A Parent’s Guide to Purposeful Living. Deborah is also the owner of WorthyNest®, an independent advisory firm dedicated to helping parents build wealth. She is a recipient of the 2018 AICPA Standing Ovation Award for Personal Financial Planning. Deborah has been featured in The Wall Street JournalForbes, Yahoo! Finance and CNN Business and is a regular contributor to Kiplinger. Outside of work, Deborah spends time with her husband, Bryan, and three sons.

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No one really likes to think about paying taxes, but everyone likes to think about tax deductions. And for you small business owners who want to give back, but still need to mind your budget, my friend, Deb Meyer, has some great advice for you.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.

How To Lower Your Stress At Work

When I met Kelli Clay a few months ago at a conference and she said she helps people train their brains to stress less, I and everyone at our table sat up and said, “Yes, please!”

And after hearing her talk about her process over lunch, I knew she’d make a great guest blogger. As I’ve mentioned here before, I think there is a different kind of stress that results from social impact work. There’s all the “usual” stress that comes with running a business—or heck, even working at one—but the stakes are higher when you not only have your customers sand donors to think about, but those who benefit from your work as well. It can be a lot of pressure to juggle that triple bottom line.

If your chest got a little tighter at that thought, keep reading. Give Kelli’s exercise below a try and see if you can lower your stress at work to thrive in what you do.

How to Lower Your Stress at Work

Would you like to have a stress-free life?

When I ask this question during a presentation or workshop, everyone nods an emphatic yes. Today, I’d like to challenge that desire.

Benefits of Stress

Yes, you read that right. Stress has more to offer us than we might imagine.

First, stress saves lives. That is the purpose of the stress response in our bodies. If a rabid dog is chasing me, I want to be able to run fast, and if the dog catches me, I want my immune system to kick in, and my blood to clot so that I don’t bleed to death. The stress response provides those results.

“Okay,” you say, “but how often am I chased by a rabid dog? How is stress helpful in my everyday life?”

That question leads to the second benefit which is motivation. When I was teaching college classes I would ask my students, “Would you study this material if you didn’t have the stress of an exam looming?” Even my best students said they would not study without that motivator.

The third benefit is the energy that the stress response delivers. In addition to motivation, my students experienced a spike in energy that could be applied to learning when they felt tired.

Now you might say, “That is all well and good, but there is no way those benefits outweigh the detriments of stress, especially its impact on my health.” This is where the best news of all comes in: Recent research shows us that stress comes in different forms.

Different Types of Stress

In her book, The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal writes about two different types of stress response: the “threat response” and the “challenge response.” Dr. McGonigal teaches us that when we perceive stress as a challenge instead of a threat, our bodies respond in a healthy fashion, similar to the way our bodies respond to exercise.

For example, in a threat response, our blood vessels become narrower, but in a challenge response they stay wide open, allowing lots of oxygen to reach cells for a boost in energy.

The key to moving our bodies from a threat response to a challenge response is to use our brains differently.

The more “primitive” parts of our brain (such as the limbic system) are wired to initiate the threat response to keep us safe. In order to initiate a challenge response, we have to use the parts of our brain more developed in humans (such as the prefrontal cortex). To do that, we need to change the way we perceive what is triggering the stress.

Consider the way a skillful athlete uses her stress response to improve her performance. Before she starts her tennis match you can see her breathing deeply, moving about, and focusing her mind. She is not thinking about how stressed she is. She is using the energy surging through her body by thinking about how she will rise to the challenge, hit the ball hard, and make the best shots.

Action Steps

We can use that same process in everyday life.

For example, when I am preparing for a presentation, I acknowledge that my body is having a stress response, but instead of fretting about being stressed I tell myself that my body is gearing up, and I am capable and can handle the challenge. I build on my past success and tell myself I’ve done this before with great results. Then, I tell myself that I am excited, and this will be fun. Last, I notice that excited feeling in my body.

My exact words may not work for you, so it is beneficial to come up with your own mantras to create a new perception.

Here are the steps I recommend to retrain your brain when it comes to stress:

  1. Acknowledge the response your body is having such as:

    1. the faster heart rate,

    2. the sweaty palms, or

    3. the butterflies in your belly.

  2. Reassure yourself that this is normal. Examples statements are:

    1. This is my primitive brain trying to protect me, but I’m not in danger.

    2. I am fine. This is just my body’s natural response to the challenge ahead.

  3. Encourage yourself. For example:

    1. Think about a success you’ve had and recognize that if you could do that, you can accomplish the task ahead of you.

    2. You might repeat something like, “I know I can handle this.”

  4. Choose a new positive, high-energy emotion such as:

    1. excited,

    2. enthusiastic, or

    3. thrilled.

  5. Invoke the new emotion you chose by:

    1. creating and repeating sentences that support the new emotion, or

    2. visualizing yourself responding to the situation with the new emotion.

  6. Notice your body’s response to the new emotion. If your heart is pumping fast now, it is because you are thrilled, not because you are scared.

Jack’s Success with the Challenge Response

I worked with a man in his mid-50’s that we will call Jack, whose company was being sold. He was a manager, had been with the company for 20 years, and his family depended on his salary. Jack was having trouble sleeping and he faced each day with a tight chest. He was concerned about his future and the future of his employees.

At first, Jack was skeptical. He thought this method was too simple and wouldn’t make a difference, but he agreed to try it. Every time he felt his heart racing and his chest getting tight, he would stop for a moment and notice those sensations in his body.

When he did, the symptoms decreased.

Then he reassured himself that his response was normal because he cared about what happened to his family and employees. He reviewed the problems he had overcome in his lifetime and decided he could handle this new situation.

Next, Jack decided he wanted to feel courageous and enthused for whatever came. To invoke those emotions, he stood up straighter and visualized himself walking into the office tall and strong. He repeated to himself, “The reason a company might want to buy us is because we made this company great. I have strong skills, and if we are bought, I will use those skills to support the new company, or possibly in a new position somewhere else.” He encouraged his employees in the same way.

A few weeks later, Jack was surprised to realize that he felt a calm excitement for whatever came next.

Jack’s situation has not changed. His company is still up for sale and he does not know what will happen, but he goes to work each day with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure.

You Can Do It

As simple as this sounds, it is not always easy. You have to practice it until you develop the new, neural pathways in your brain that make it easier, just like learning to ride a bike.

Don’t give up, thinking that this will never work.

There is solid science to back this exercise. Watch Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk to learn more. It has worked for me, my students, and clients—and I know it will work for you!

Instead of “stress-free,” embrace the challenge response and you can “stress less!”

Kelli Clay

Kelli Clay teaches people how to deal with stress through her signature program, "Train Your Brain to Stress Less and Thrive." It is more efficient and less time-consuming than traditional stress management, so if you need help managing the stress in your life, she offers a free telephone discovery session. And if you want quick, practical tips for stressing less, subscribe to her twice-a-month newsletter.




How to Lower Your Stress as a Social Impact Business Owner

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.