The Foundations of a Logo
Industry terms that describe what makes up a logo are many and ever evolving, so let’s keep it simple and talk about wordmarks versus logomarks, and how they work together. Each of these are important building blocks for the nonprofit logo that you will want to design, or talk to a designer about.
A wordmark is simply your brand in text. Sometimes this is referred to as a logotype. There are some very talented and well paid typographic artists out there, but most commonly, this is a matter of selecting a pre-existing font that fits your vibe and making some slight tweaks.
For example, the Mightycause wordmark has some custom vector work and letter-spacing adjustments going on, but at its core is a free web font.
Select a few favorite fonts, then experiment with weight (Regular? Thin? Bold?), case (Sentence case? Uppercase?), and the spacing between characters, until you have a look that appeals to you and your team. Make it interesting, but keep it legible.
Check out Google Fonts for finding a font. They have a wealth of free fonts that are compatible with most design programs, and that are optimized to have good legibility and look great for both web and print. You can type your name or brand into the central “Type something” field to view how it looks in each font as you browse.
A logomark is an iconic image, a single graphical symbol that represents your brand. It can be incorporated into a logo along with a wordmark, but can also stand alone as a simple and eye catching shape.
Think about who you are as a nonprofit and how that could translate into a graphic: What special interest do you serve? Is community an important aspect? Are you lucky enough to work with animals? Aesthetic trends aside, a powerful graphic is uncomplicated in execution and recognizable in shape.
Nonprofits without a staffed designer may consider a lettermark, a type of logomark as simple and efficient as the initials of your name, with added flourish and timeless effect. Below are prime examples from Music Theatre Wichita and the VMFA.
Lastly, as a natural progression of having the two elements above, a combination mark combines your word and logo marks into one image. For nonprofits, this is the most useful logo for common application, as it states your name as well as shows your style. Everyone Home DC, Girls Rock North Carolina, Capital Area Food Bank, and Homeward Trails Animal Rescue all exemplify this perfectly.
It is not uncommon for brands to have a few iterations of a combination mark, varying in color or layout. Don’t worry about having every image you need from the jump. Uses for different variations will become clear as you begin to apply your nonprofit logo practically. Below is an excellent guideline, designed by Creative Punch for Rising Together Foundation, for the types of images you’ll want in your kit, taking varied heights, widths, and word content into account.
Always be sure to do your market research when developing your brand. Run a Google search, as well as a category search for nonprofits on Mightycause to see other nonprofit logos in your line of work. Get ideas from others, but make sure that your concept will stand out in a crowd.
Keep standard use cases in mind when developing your wordmark, and when building a combination mark. If your nonprofit name is particularly wordy, play with differently emphasized font sizes and word stacking until you find a satisfactory balance. Considering this will ensure that your logo isn’t too long and thin, which hurts its end usefulness, and a well balanced image will scale better on the most screen sizes and in different upload applications.
In addition to your standard nonprofit logo, which may or may not fit neatly into a square, the following are valuable image orientations and colorways to consider.
Formats for Your Consideration
No brand is complete without a 1:1 ratio logo image (“one to one”, the height is equal to the width—a perfect square). The most ubiquitous case for this type of image is avatars on social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on other types of platforms with a public profile, such as Mightycause. We’ve seen profile images take the form of squares, rounded squares, and circles.
This is where a logomark would really shine, as profile images are usually accompanied by your name in text on the page.
If you do not have an illustrative element to your logo, experiment with fitting your wordmark into a square canvas to be used as your 1:1 logo. Try breaking it up to create more verticality, and use your eye to fill the space as efficiently as possible.
Remember to leave enough padding around the edges of your logo, so that none of your brand is lost depending on how the image is displayed: for example, in a circle. You can test this by placing a circle with no fill and a thin border edge-to-edge over your canvas.
White and neutral logos
White logos are invaluable for creating marketing visuals and for use anywhere your logo will appear on top of a colored background, graphic, or another image. A fully white logo allows you to place your branding over other elements without concern for color clash or loss of legibility. It is common to have a white version of each type of logo you have.
It may also be of interest to have a dark version of your logo, too. As I’ve found, sometimes the stock photo I fall for is just too light for a white logo, and Mighty Blue isn’t working for me either. This is definitely not as important, but something to consider. It would probably be comical for most to see how many official shades of grey we have in our kit, but our deepest shades really come in handy for very specific asset needs.
With all logos, but particularly with white, it is important to utilize transparent backgrounds. Depending on the design program you use, there will be a “background” to the canvas that you can elect to delete or remove. Keeping the background blank and saving your logo file as a transparent PNG means that in application, you are able to place your logo onto a surface without the logo image having a white box behind it.
Your nonprofit logo, wholistically
When you bring the elements of your brand together in one place, you can see the fruits of your labor. The attention you give to each iteration of your logo makes your whole approach look polished and thoughtful, and the end result is a professional and engaging presence that any donor would feel confident supporting.
Jess Timmons is the Senior Graphics & Visual Designer at Mightycause. She has developed new features, products, interfaces and imagery for five years and counting.