style guide

Why Your Organization Needs a Style Guide

If you run an organization, you need a style guide. That means, if you just organize anything from an annual local street fair to a busy homeless shelter, you need consistent style. When marketers talk about style, they refer to how words and images are used to convey your messaging. You might think you don’t need to worry about things that corporate marketers worry about, but you will benefit from this small but critical item.


Why You Need a Style Guide

Even small organizations and clubs need consistent branding. That means you should create a style guide. Even if you, personally, handle all communication, you want it consistent. Consistency makes your materials easier to read, quickly recognizable, and professional looking. Additionally, if you multiple people generate materials for you, they need to work in sync. Maybe you have an eager corps of volunteers ready to update your Facebook page or create flyers for your fundraiser. That’s great! Help them help you by setting out clear guidelines.


Your Style Guide is Your Friend

Don’t think of it as a list of rules. Treat it like your helpful assistant. You can refer to it as needed to reassure you that you’re following correct procedures, without having to memorize everything. It will also help keep everyone involved with your organization on the same page — literally!


Your Style Guide Doesn’t Have to Be Fancy

Some big companies have beautiful, bound volumes with Pantone color samples and extensive lists of approved fonts. For a club or community organization, you may only need a page. Store it electronically where it’s easy for everyone who needs it to access it. You might use Google Docs, for example. Then you can quickly make updates if you need to, and you can embed links to further resources.


Your Style Guide Should Contain the Following

Your correct company name with preferred spelling and punctuation

This might sound unnecessary. You all know your name. But, do you have a long name that users tend to shorten? Is there an acceptable nickname or acronym? Should the letters of the acronym be capitalized, and should there be periods in between? Remember, sometimes the name you use internally stands to confuse the public. It might also “cheat” part of the organization out of recognition. For example, this writer knows of a certain zoo and botanical garden where “and botanical garden” often gets left off the name. That’s not fair to the people who manage the botanical garden, now is it? Furthermore, if that were your zoo, would you write out the word “and” or use an ampersand (&)? These are all guidelines you’ll want to set. Also, if you’re a chapter of a larger national organization, study and link to any of their guidelines.

Your tagline, if you have one

As with your name, make sure people know the complete tagline and how it should be written. Consider punctuation and capitalization. There are multiple ways to write the same thing. For example, let’s say your tagline is “The first birders club in the tristate area.” Should people always include “the” at the beginning? Should “tristate” be spelled with a hyphen, as “tri-state”? What about the word “first”? Would it be acceptable to write “1st”? If your tagline contains frequently abbreviated words in it, address these. For example, if it includes the word Ohio, can users shorten it to Oh. or OH?

Guidelines for using your logo

Logos are tricky to use, but if you invested in designing a great logo, you want it used correctly. Specify the exact colors, and if it’s okay to use in black and white. Set a size limit, so that people don’t make it so small it can’t be recognized. Ask that, if someone does resize it, they maintain the dimensions rather than “stretching” the logo. Also require high resolution for print documents so it doesn’t come out pixelated. These kinds of mistakes shout “amateur.”

Whether you’re going to follow AP Style or the Chicago Manual of Style

Provide appropriate links so it’s easy to look up something that the user doesn’t know. Try including a few frequently occurring examples, though, so they don’t have to look up everything. For example, state whether you want to use capital letters for each word in a headline, or whether to use a serial comma.

Social media guidelines

This is different from a social media policy! You may want to explore that issue separately. For your style guide, think about things that come up in social media that don’t apply elsewhere. Hashtags are one example. Does your organization have an official hashtag, and will you introduce others when promoting certain events? You might also consider how the company name should be used in social media. Even if you dictate that the whole name is used in print materials, it may be unwieldy for Twitter. Decide on acceptable shortened versions or acronyms.

What kind of images are acceptable

If you work with the public, especially youth, you probably have strict guidelines about photo usage. Make sure anyone using images on behalf of your organization understands those, along with privacy and copyright laws. But also consider what types of images best showcase your mission. You might suggest that they always incorporate colors from your logo, or colors that evoke a certain mood. You might recommend that photos always show people… or never do. State whether filters are okay. (You might include this under social media.) And, be sure to mention resolution. Just as with your logo, you don’t want pixelated, unprofessional-looking images on your print materials.


You Should Be Able to Explain Why You Have the Style Guide

Not everyone will love the idea of following a style guide. Just convey the advantages and why it’s important. Make sure everyone who needs it knows about it and how to access it. Remind users that it’s there to help them, not hinder them.


Once you think about what you need in your style guide, it will probably take shape pretty quickly. Just jot down ideas as you think of them. You probably already have a few after reading this post. You might even have certain pet peeves that you’ve want to do something about. Now is your chance! Remember it’s a living document and you can always add or revise as you need to.


PHOTO: Alexander Stein / CC0 Public Domain

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