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How a Custom WordPress Site Gives Your Association Superpowers

Today, the bulk of what you see on the Internet runs on WordPress. Over 40% of all websites are built on the platform, and 65% of all websites that run on a CMS use WordPress to support their digital publishing. As you consider what your association website needs to be successful, WordPress casts a long shadow over every other option.

Frankly, there’s a reason for that. WordPress is a powerful and flexible platform that supports an array of custom plugins and third-party integrations. When utilized properly, WordPress allows organizations like yours to implement whatever website functionality your members need. 

By working with the dominant open source CMS in the marketplace, you can be assured that future needs ranging from software updates to development resources are easy to procure. Plus, when you take the extra steps to customize the backend interface, you can ensure your site editors will publish timely updates with a streamlined experience that protects your brand.

With the help of the right digital agency, your WordPress site will empower both your association and your members right now — and far into the future. 

5 Advantages of a WordPress Association Website

1. WordPress is Expandable and Flexible

With a proprietary CMS, you’re at the mercy of the product’s parent company to introduce improvements or respond to security or feature requests. The popularity of WordPress has led to a large community of developers which means improvements and new functionality is released more regularly. And with complete access to the source code, you’re able to expand its functionality as you see fit with virtually no limits.

2. Editing in WordPress is a User-Friendly Experience

Out of the box, the WordPress admin interface is easy to navigate. Content editing is intuitive, and the platform allows you to preview your changes before publication. For the most part, the editing interface follows norms from word processing software, which allows more people on your team to learn to manage your site with a lower barrier to entry.

Already designed to eliminate the need for your site editors to understand code, the WordPress CMS grew more simplified in 2018 with the block editor, known as Gutenberg. The block editor allows your teams to easily edit and rearrange custom elements on any page. Page layout changes that once required technical expertise can be done with a click, while protecting the integrity of your brand.

When you work with an agency like ours, we customize the interface to suit your needs even further. When your teams need to make changes, they see only the editing tools and functionality they need — and none of what they don’t. 

3. WordPress is Powered by an Active Open Source Community

WordPress is an open source platform, which means developers can access the platform’s source code to expand its capabilities. Just as importantly, your organization also benefits from an active community keeping the platform up-to-date. 

WordPress is so ubiquitous, it benefits from a huge population of developers working to resolve bugs or create new features and plugins. The platform also has a dedicated security team of developers and researchers working to discover and resolve any detected vulnerabilities.

When you use a proprietary CMS, your organization is at the mercy of the parent company’s development schedule for new feature releases. By contrast, the WordPress community ensures the platform remains in a state of constant improvement. On average, WordPress releases two new updates per month. And with an open source platform, you have complete access to the source code, so you can create any custom features you need.

4. WordPress is Scalable

WordPress is flexible enough to handle sites ranging from small businesses to corporate giants. The core technologies within WordPress have been proven over time, which means your developers don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes time to setting up the server infrastructure. However far-reaching your organization’s goals may be, WordPress will be able to take your site there.

5. WordPress is SEO-Friendly

When you’re managing large amounts of content for your organization’s site, you need a platform that integrates SEO from the beginning. If your site isn’t visible to search engines, it’s effectively invisible to your new and prospective members. WordPress incorporates best practices that are ranked highly by search engine algorithms. Plus, WordPress supports plugin tools like Yoast that ensure your content conforms with requirements to boost search engine rankings.

WordPress Integrations Connect Your Association’s Website with Vital Tools

WordPress is flexible enough to be customized to support whatever design and functionality your association website needs. That flexibility is best reflected with how well WordPress integrates with third-party platforms to expand your site’s capabilities with external data or functionality.

Of all of the advantages WordPress offers, one of the greatest stems from its overall popularity. Whenever a software service provider creates an application, it’s always in their best interest to provide a plugin that integrates their system with WordPress because it connects them to millions of potential customers. Same can’t be said for less popular platforms, as you’ll have to either wait and hope for someone to build an integration that you can license, or spend lots of time and money yourself creating the integration.

And when an integration doesn’t already exist, WordPress allows us to create custom integrations for you with most modern systems and data sources. Whether you work with a tool like MemberSuite, here are just a few examples of how WordPress integrations create a richer website experience for members:

  • Event calendar and management: Use an API integration to pull your organization’s events from an AMS into WordPress to create a centralized and user-friendly calendar.
  • Directory management: Draw member information from your AMS to create an interactive directory searchable by location or other details. If you need to display information for specific committees, we can design your site to display those too.
  • Member management: Remove the need for multiple login points and create a single-sign-on integration with your AMS to give different levels of access to your website to staff, members, committees and even the board. 

WordPress is so extendable that your site can sync with multiple data sources to further build community and increase engagement among your members. You just need to work with the right partner to bring all the pieces together.

How to Customize WordPress to Suit Your Association’s Needs

WordPress is the dominant website platform. But not all WordPress sites are created equal. You need a website that’s consistent with your brand, cohesive with the rest of your organization, and simple enough to manage that your team can easily edit and publish new content.

Due to its popularity, you can find a countless number of low cost and off-the-shelf themes and templates that may appear to suit your needs. But these templates are built as broadly as possible to serve the needs of as many organizations as possible. That comes with many disadvantages. You’ll never find a theme that’s designed to solve your specific challenges, communicate effectively with your unique audiences, or one that sets you apart from your competition. In addition, it will include hundreds of features your organization will never use. These elements will leave you with a site that’s more confusing to edit and manage, and unnecessary bloat that can slow site performance and drag down search engine rankings. 

WordPress offers a variety of ways to create a website customized for your organization, but you need to start from the ground up. When you work with Position, you can be assured that your site will be finely-tuned to accommodate what you need, no more — and no less. 

Our approach to WordPress design and development delivers two benefits to your organization:

Protect Your Brand and Your Investment 

Your brand communicates your organization’s mission, values, and vision, and builds trust and loyalty from your members. 

An off-the-shelf template can be your brand’s worst enemy by being too flexible. It may empower your teams to build whatever they want, but the end results are detrimental to your organization. As you have multiple people working on your site, your organization soon has multiple pages designed to suit numerous needs and standards. All too quickly, your new website will degrade into a state worse than before.

A site that degrades over time isn’t just a bad investment; it creates an overall negative impact on your organization’s brand.

On the other hand, a custom WordPress site built in accordance with your brand, goals, and best practices, leaves your organization better positioned for the future. At Position, we build sites that create a separation between design, functionality, and content, which protects your brand while giving your team just the right amount of flexibility to edit and manage your content.

Empower Teams with an Intuitive Editing Experience

At Position, we build systems that are designed to make your life easier. A customized, ground-up approach to your organization’s site doesn’t just create an admin interface for site editors that’s intuitive and easy-to-manage. It also will provide guardrails that protect your site’s design, aesthetic, and performance in the long run. 

Your organization moves at the speed of light, and you need a site that enables your team to be responsive to your needs. When you need a last-minute landing page to support an upcoming event, your teams will be empowered to create what you need without having to reach out to anyone for help.

When you need a new website, the end results are simply too valuable not to protect. When you’re working with the right agency, those protections will already be in place.

Don’t Let Your Site Be a Jack-of-all-Trades and Master of None

You need a website that perfectly serves the specific needs of your association and your members (and next generation of members). And you don’t have to figure it out on your own.

Let’s talk about building a custom WordPress website that makes an impact — now and for years to come.

How Event Branding Boosts Attendance, Sponsorship Dollars — and Your Organization’s Profile

As you approach the deadlines for your organization’s annual event, the pressure only grows. After all, no matter whether you’re set to stage a gala, fundraiser, or convention for members, the gathering provides a crucial connection with your most valuable audience.

If you host events for your members, you know attendance and sponsorship numbers from those events have a significant effect on your bottom line. Each event presents an opportunity to energize or even expand membership and increase revenue. To unlock your event’s real potential, you need to incorporate clear, consistent branding and an elevated design.

Events present a chance to create a physical extension of who you are as a brand. When executed properly, event branding delivers an experience that engages members while elevating the value and perception of your organization.

What Do We Mean by Elevated Event Branding and Design?

Branding your event requires more than a color scheme and clever theme. Any association can create collateral pulled from a few standard design templates and hope for the best. But how do you take an event to the next level?

Put simply: you create an event experience that’s smart and elevated. When we say smart, what we mean is that your event’s design is inspired by strategic decisions rather than arbitrary preferences. Each detail and design element you choose to incorporate into your event should be there because it reinforces the goals of your organization.

However, an elevated event experience doesn’t only communicate all the right things to embody your brand’s position. It can also inspire your members with a cohesive visual presentation and create a positive connection with your brand.

Think of what happens when you dine at a high-end restaurant. From the moment you check in with the host all the way up through dessert, your experience has been curated to communicate a message about where you are. Your event should provide the same elevated, consistent experience for your members.

Successful Events Rely on a Unified Purpose and Vision

From the earliest stages of marketing to the moment members leave the venue, the most successful events deliver an experience consistent with their brand. They are planned around a distinct set of goals. Every element of the event reflects a unified narrative and central purpose that serves the organization. 

For example, if one of the goals of your event is to encourage renewals, then a well-branded event provides an opportunity to boost enthusiasm for members. If they feel energized and engaged by an event that’s elevated, cohesive, and exceeds expectations, they’re more likely to attend more events. And event attendance is a key element of member retention. 

Any event is a two-part experience: The pre-event marketing and the in-person experience. Months beforehand, your communications should set the tone by providing a consistent journey from the save-the-date announcement through ongoing marketing. At the event each interaction with your members is a moment that adds to or detracts from the overall experience.

A successfully branded event comes down to bringing three elements into alignment:

  • Quality of production: Is everyone on the team, from AV to the event planner, working together to maximize the attendee experience around the same goals? In our experience, collaboration and synergy can quickly take an event from good to great. 
  • Quality of content: Is your program and its messaging consistent with the event’s purpose and your organization’s goals? Relevant and valuable content is the backbone of a successful event. 
  • The marketing and visual experience: Is every visual element leading up to and during your event communicating a clear message that’s right for your brand? Up until they walk in the door, this is all attendees and sponsors have to judge your event by.

At Position, we align each of the elements above by collaborating with your team and event planners to ensure all aspects of your conference or gala reinforce your brand’s story. By shaping all the details into a cohesive whole, your organization delivers a more engaging experience for the audience who matters most.

Successful Event Branding Is an Extension of Your Organization

Organizations like yours host events for a number of reasons. Bringing your members together can provide real educational or inspirational value, convert attendees to members, and increase revenue through additional sponsorship. With the help of the right partners, your events can become game-changing assets for your organization. 

When Associated General Contractors of California wanted to breathe new life into their organization and events, we helped them evolve their 100 year old brand and reimagine their industry conference. With AGC’s new strategic branding in place for its events, the organization increased attendance for CONSTRUCT 2021 by 31% and sponsorships for their Gala by 300%.

Your ability to deliver an experience that serves your organization’s goals is a complicated, high-stakes undertaking. You shouldn’t have to navigate all the details on your own.

How to Know Your Event Needs a More Thoughtful Approach to Branding

A conference that acts as an extension of your brand reinforces the value of belonging to your organization. The equity you gain from a successful event constitutes something of a loop.

The more engaging experience your members have, the more likely they are to attend the following year and renew their membership. As member attendance and engagement grows, so do sponsorship dollars.

Your event branding should add to the overall perception of your brand among your members and in the marketplace. But knowing whether the time is right to take your event to the next level depends on your organization. If attendance has been lagging, sponsorships have been flat, or you want to unlock untapped potential, it’s time to create a more engaging experience that’s aligned with your brand. If you’re ready to create a flagship event for your organization, we should talk.

Can an RFP Get Your Organization What It Really Needs? Or Just What You Ask For?

Many associations default to writing a request for proposal (RFP) when it comes to choosing a professional firm to help them rebrand their organization or redesign their website. And while it’s easy to assume RFPs are the way to get the job done fairly, effectively, and economically, this assumption tends to reduce a complex problem down to a simple matter of where to get the best deal like you would when buying a car. 

The reality is that when you’re ready to buy a car, you start by evaluating your needs (car features and benefits) and then your constraints (your budget). Eventually you find the best option and then a dealer offering the best price. Then, you buy that car. 

But it’s not that straightforward when it comes to complex, high dollar value, and customized solutions. When you rebrand an organization or redesign a website, you need to do much more than search for the firm with the lowest price. You’re looking for a firm that has solved the same problems as you’re facing in your industry. Working with a firm means entrusting them to correctly diagnose the source of your problem areas, and have the experience and expertise to solve those problems in your industry.

RFPs aren’t the only way to select a firm to do your long-awaited rebranding or website project. The RFP process doesn’t typically lead to the best qualified expert, solution, or even the best value. There’s a better way. When you use qualifications based selection (QBS), you’ll get a fairly-priced, customized solution from a true expert.

RFPs Have Their Place — But Not For Complex and Customized Solutions

RFPs do work in cut-and-dry scenarios when: 

  1. You don’t need an industry expert to help you understand the problem or the real cause of it. 
  2. You don’t need a conversation with firms to make sure they fully understand your association and its challenges, diagnose the source of them, before proposing the correct custom solution.  
  3. The lowest price is all that matters to you. The RFP process identifies which firm will provide the best perceived value — not which firm will provide the most innovative, valuable solution, at a fair price. 
  4. Opportunity cost is not a concern. If you truly know the source of the problem, and the deliverables are simple and identifiable. You’re not worried that you could have missed a major insight or opportunity and spent your valuable resources on the wrong (or half baked) solution.

When your association takes on a rebrand or a website redesign, you’re attending to a critical part of successfully moving your member-driven organization into the future — not a simple, cut-and-dry issue like the above criteria would cater to. Again, in order for the RFP process to work, you need an accurate self-diagnosis. But what happens when you take on writing an RFP and incorrectly define the source of the problem? 

It’s not only writing the RFP that’s a challenge. It’s also identifying an expert vendor. Naturally, vendors who respond to an RFP will want to win the project. They’ll make promises based on your prescribed requests for the lowest price they can offer and bind themselves to it. 

More and more expert firms won’t even bother participating in the RFP process. That’s because RFPs offer no incentive for firms to spend the extensive time necessary to research and diagnose the real cause of the problem or to generate custom and innovative solutions that best address it. After all, that would be a waste of their time and effort if and when you choose another firm. 

Don’t end up selecting the wrong vendor or the wrong solution because you were lured by the lowest price or perceived value. By the time you figure out the solution you paid for is half-baked, you’ll have no budget left to start your project over. So skip the RFP and begin with QBS.

Use Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) To Get Your Association the Best Results

RFPs often don’t reflect an association’s true needs. Why? Because even those who do know the project best — and who have perhaps begged and pleaded to have it approved — are too close to the project to see all the variables. It’s easy to see the car needs fixing, but knowing what parts to replace or if you need a new car altogether? Those decisions take the know-how, experience, and eyes of an expert.

When you need expert solutions for complex problems, qualifications based selection (QBS) makes sense. The process was established by the Congress in 1972 as a method to ensure government agencies hired the most qualified architecture and engineering firms rather than the cheapest. Since then QBS has been adopted as a procurement method in the private sector as well.

The QBS process ensures:

  • You can select a firm based on their competency and expertise rather than price or specific deliverables.
  • The expert firm drives best value into your budget.
  • Best value is measured by the quality of the solutions at a fair price.
  • You’ll collaborate with the firm you choose about the best approach to your project and its scale and scope, and determine the best path forward and the appropriate deliverables to give you the desired outcome.

QBS gives you an opportunity to collaborate, to ask tough questions — and be asked tough questions. You can have conversations with the firm that builds a mutual understanding of the problem and the real cause of it, before determining the most appropriate solutions, costs, and deliverables.

3 Easy Steps to Hiring a Vendor Via QBS 

It might be tempting to stick with the RFP process to select a vendor for your project. It’s human nature to choose the familiar — despite evidence that the familiar isn’t the best for the desired outcome.

You can still lean on something familiar as you begin QBS. Treat the process like you are making a new staff hire and follow these 3 steps:

  1. Determine the qualifications a firm must have for you to hire them. Rather than starting with an RFP, start with an “RFQ” presenting your project’s objectives to vendors offering the services you need. Don’t focus on finding a pre-defined solution or rate — look at each firm’s capabilities, approach, and their ability to communicate with your team. Be sure to confirm they have extensive experience working with similar organizations and have solved similar challenges for them. 
  2. Shortlist the top three firms, interview them, and rank them. Review qualification responses and consider each firm’s experience, capabilities, and personnel. Spend time researching each firm’s website and their past clients, thought leadership, and results. Interview each firm about the project and rate the candidates for their understanding of the project, their approach, and how they communicate with your team.
  3. Start the collaborative process. Select the top firm and start the collaborative process of identifying the real source of your problems, the most optimal budget to solve them, as well as the solutions and deliverables to drive into that budget.

Your Association’s Project Deserves a Better Procurement Process

When you’re finally at the point of firm selection for your project, you should insist on one who has these two qualities:

  • Industry expertise 
  • An understanding of your organization’s unique challenges and having solved the same challenges for other similar organizations

Aren’t you looking to hire a vendor in the first place because you don’t have the expertise yourself? Old school RFPs simply aren’t designed to help you access top industry experts.

Instead of sinking time, energy, and budget in a process that proves inefficient at best, invest in a more effective selection process. QBS springs from a firm belief that only experts should do your work and that your engagement with them should be focused and productive. It makes way for you to hire the best available firm to build your association’s custom ride — empowering you to take your members where they want to go.

Before Making Branding Investments for Your Member-Driven Organization, Analyze Impact

Branding is the sharpest tool you have to attract and keep members. But it’s also a way to realize your organization’s purpose by building recognition and trust. There’s no question about it: if you want to grow your member-driven organization, you need to invest in branding. 

Deciding what branding efforts to pursue — and when — isn’t easy. Should you start with a website rebuild? A microsite for an upcoming campaign? Or should you start with something much smaller, like a presentation template? Of course, budget plays an important role in your branding plan. But so do your CEO and board members. It all adds up to a lot of pressure to get it right — the first time.

You’ve got to identify your most pressing problems and opportunities so you know which solutions to prioritize. That requires beginning your branding work with an expert analysis of your current brand ecosystem.

Partnering with an agency specializing in member-driven organizations can give you the truth about your current branding efforts. You’ll get the benefit of unbiased expertise, which will help minimize the risk of future bad brand investments. Plus, a thorough analysis can assure your resources will be used to maximize positive impact on your organization and your members. 

3 Brand Investment Mistakes Organizations Make

Organizations never want to make bad investments, yet it happens all the time. A poor choice can do more than derail your branding plan; it can harm your organization’s reputation. And when you don’t have an unlimited budget, it might be years before you can make another significant investment. 

There are three ways organizations like yours can make mistakes with their brand investments.

1. Setting the Wrong Budget

Sometimes the approved budget doesn’t support the real investment that’s required to produce results. It can take months to secure a branding budget. If the budget isn’t adequate, you might be tempted to settle for cheap solutions. 

2. Miscalculating the Timeline

It’s not just the budget that can cause problems; timelines can, too. For example, you may discover you actually need a new messaging platform before the website rebuild you mapped out. Your timeline could potentially double! And, of course, reworking your entire proposed timeline negatively affects your carefully laid plans, and  relationships with others in your organization. 

3. Carrying Out the Wrong Solution

Budget and time pressure can lead to choosing solutions that are cheaper and faster — which may not be solutions at all. All elements of your brand interact and build on top of each other, so one incorrect decision will have a ripple effect. 

It’s also all too easy to prioritize the wrong element. You may believe website redesign should be your priority, but the truth is that you need a brand identity redesign first. Your organization could spend time and money on a solution that doesn’t get you the results you hope for.

Begin With an Objective Evaluation Before Making Investments

Avoiding the common mistakes starts with clearly evaluating the current state of your brand. An outside partner like Position can precisely diagnose issues and build a personalized brand plan to ensure your investment is a good one. And that begins with an audit of the totality of your organization’s current brand positioning and ecosystem. After all, accurately mapping the way forward requires knowing your starting point. 

Discover Where to Maximize Impact By Auditing Your Current Brand Ecosystem

Current Brand Positioning

We’ll start by asking these broad questions about your brand positioning:

  • What is the purpose of your organization?
  • Who does your organization serve and what are their needs?
  • Where is your organization going?

The way we gather and analyze positioning information helps us understand your organization’s underlying challenges and opportunities.

Current Brand Ecosystem

Auditing your brand ecosystem is a rigorous process. We will detail what components are present and whether or not they are in alignment with your organizational mission and identity.

We will evaluate your organization’s:

  • Resources (budgets, board, staff, vendors, and volunteers)
  • Brand system and collateral 
  • Digital platforms
  • Current and past campaigns and initiatives
  • Current and past strategic marketing plans
  • Demographics research 
  • Current vendor relationships and contracts
  • Sponsor contracts
  • Member benefits

Once we understand your past and current state of affairs, member personas, and organizational goals, then we can help prescribe the right solutions. 

Formulate a Custom-Built Plan of Action

Auditing your brand positioning and ecosystem provides time for us to collaborate with you. We’ll gain understanding of your challenges as you see them, and share our understanding of your challenges as we see them. Together, we will prioritize the items in your custom plan of action to maximize your budget and potential impact.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each membership organization has unique priorities, and each marketing director comes with their own expertise. Even though membership organizations are all different, you can rely on the stability of our experience. You won’t have to wonder — or wrongfully assume — cost, timeline, or optimal order of projects.

Naturally, needs differ from organization to organization, but the following serve as examples of potential plans of action. We might:

  • Redesign your member onboarding process.
  • Rework and strengthen your messaging platform to amplify all other brand efforts.
  • Redirect resources allocated to a new website feature to curation of a robust email newsletter.
  • Create a sponsor deck to help you raise money for an important initiative.
  • Prioritize rebranding events before building a website.

Leaning on our expertise in robust brand ecosystems will align/enhance your marketing efforts to maximize results. Our objective report and detailed, custom strategy illuminates the right path forward. You can get it right the first time and avoid additional costs for re-dos and rebuilds. 

Brand change requires wise use of your resources. But most importantly, it requires a willingness to review, reflect, and listen to sound advice. If you’re ready to make the right investments to serve your members better and attract more prospects, let’s talk.

The Member-driven Organization’s Brand Guidelines Toolkit

Your members see you as one organization and one brand experience. They can’t distinguish between your membership, finance, marketing, or events departments. For their experience with your brand to be a good one, you need to consistently deliver the same messaging across all departments and channels. The first and crucial step to ensuring that happens is to create strong brand guidelines.

Good brand guidelines are more than a catalog of logo usage, colors, and fonts. They communicate your organization’s reason for being — your mission, values, and vision — in a way that’s relatable and memorable. Brand guidelines, when applied diligently, build your member’s trust in and loyalty to your organization. 

The best brand guidelines have three distinct qualities and ten essential components. Once you check each of these boxes, you’ll have a flexible system for every part of your brand experience.

3 Qualities of a Strong Brand System

Your brand identity forms in a member’s mind through a long process over multiple experiences. It requires time to build equity with your audience and present a unified story. To keep your brand story clear in the minds of members and future members, your team should be armed with comprehensive, cohesive, and flexible brand guidelines. 


A good brand system is like a well-stocked Italian pantry. A good chef can make hundreds of different dishes with the same ingredients, but they’re all unmistakably Italian dishes. Similarly, your brand should be fully stocked with tools for every use case. No matter where or how a member experiences your organization, your brand should be unmistakable. So whether you’re designing a brochure, shooting a video, or planning the stage of your marquee event, you’ll need to choose the right set of tools from the many in your comprehensive system.


Your brand elements must be anchored by a common story. Though those elements need to create variety and interest, they must be consistent, recognizable, and reinforce the same core brand narrative. Your name and logo are only the start: an interrelated system of fonts, colors, textures, patterns, image styles, messaging characteristics, positioning statements, and more all work cumulatively to reinforce one clear story and bring your organization to life.


Your guidelines need to allow for elements to be assembled and tailored in a way that can handle any number of applications. A robust and thoughtful system will allow for many different combinations of brand elements that will keep your brand fresh longer. Keep in mind that flexibility can be a double-edged sword. If you give too much flexibility and freedom, you’ll sacrifice potency and brand equity. 

Your brand elements are reflective of your greater brand strategy. Over time, you’ll need to evaluate how your messaging is being received and make changes as needed. 

10 Components of a Robust Brand System

The modern world is a very noisy and competitive space. Other brands, many of them with huge budgets, are competing for your members’ attention. In order to make a lasting impression and break through the noise, you’ll have to be deliberate and consistent as you build out your toolkit. 

These ten components are necessary to help you do just that.

1. Messaging 

Messaging is the art of choosing the right words to capture the essence of your brand. It helps define how your brand is perceived and articulated. It’s one of your most important tools. 

Brand messaging starts with the heart of your team and works outward to members and prospects. Every individual in your organization, from the CEO and the board to the administrative assistant and volunteers, needs to embrace and embody your carefully chosen messaging.

Strong internal messaging allows your organization to: 

  • Speak with one voice. Sharing common language may sound limiting and restrictive, but it’s actually freeing — no improvising, guessing, or researching necessary.
  • Build confidence. When your team shares language, it builds a sense of belonging and ownership. Plus, being empowered with shared language allows them to easily create complementary conversations about your brand with members and potential members. 

It’s natural for team members to think messaging only belongs to marketers. But relegating messaging to writers shortchanges not only the rest of your staff but also your board, volunteers, stakeholders, and vendor partners. 

Specific messaging components include:

  • Manifesto/Mantra. The mantra is the base element from which the brand promise, positioning, tone, tagline, character, voice, and other messaging stem.
  • Brand promise. Your brand promise is what you want every person to feel, think, or experience every time they interact with your brand. 
  • Positioning Statement. Your positioning statement outlines who you are, what you do, who you do it for, and how you’re different.
  • Voice. Your brand voice encompasses the tone and style you use when talking to your members and prospects.
  • Character. Your brand character is a set of human characteristics and attributes that come together to give your organization a unique personality.
  • Organizational messaging expresses who you are, what you do, what you believe, and describes standard services.

All of your marketing efforts flow out of these defining brand elements.

2. Logo

Your logo is a powerful strategic brand tool and the foundation for your brand’s visual identity. It acts as the face of your organization, and, as such, must be both unique and memorable. Your logo should aim to differentiate you from your competitors.

This keystone brand element needs to be handled carefully. Your guidelines need to outline how and when to use different versions of your logo and how to access the most current files to use and share with partners. Along with the rules, don’t forget to include the why of your logo. What does it represent? What are the meanings behind different elements and colors? A good understanding of the why goes a long way in the adoption of the rules.

3. Sub-branding, Co-branding, Event Branding

Sub-brands are divisions of your main parent brand (foundations, initiatives, and chapters) that share fundamental factors, personality, and image with your parent brand. Sub-brands may be appropriate when a division of your organization has a specific audience or a set of unique goals. For example, your program manager may feel their initiative warrants a unique brand solution. It may be a good idea — or a bad distraction. Setting parameters and guidelines guides staff to make decisions that are in alignment with your brand as a whole.

However, sub-brands do come with the risk of diluting your brand’s impact and equity. The more distinct your initiatives and programs look, the less likely they are to be associated with the parent brand. People may love your event or mentorship program, but is it clear that it is yours when it comes time for sponsorship or passing legislation?

Have a discussion with outside experts and your leadership to get a range of perspectives on the need for (and risks of) sub-brands. If you decide to move ahead, set clear rules and guidelines on how sub-brands are to be handled. 

Co-branding is a partnership between your brand and another one. Co-branding can be a strategic way to build awareness and drive business if your brands share values and an audience. You’ll need to consider how you will partner with another organization on an initiative ahead of time. If you don’t make plans for co-branding in your guidelines, you may end up risking your brand reputation and budget. 

Events are core opportunities to impress, rally, connect, educate, and inspire your members or potential members. Member-driven organizations need to set guidelines for events, too. The branding of these events says a lot about the caliber of the event and reflects back on the entire organization. It also sets expectations for sponsors and attendees before the event happens. 

Your events need to be tied visually to your organization’s brand, but they can have their own unique look and feel. Ideally, your brand system has anticipated event use cases and accounted for them in the guidelines.

4. Typography

Fonts are one of the most commonly used elements of a brand system. Typographic styles are an integral part of the brand tapestry you’re weaving. For example, if you’re a progressive, modern, technical association, you may choose a versatile sans serif typeface to represent your brand. Or if you’re a humanistic or journalistic organization, you may choose a serif typeface. There are an infinite number of possibilities.

Depending on the attributes your organization wants to communicate, you may want to include a display or handwritten typeface as well. These special use typefaces require clear parameters.

Make sure you think through consistency across mediums (web and print.) Specify alternative systems fonts for each of your custom brand fonts when they aren’t available. 

5. Color

Colors are loaded with meaning; the colors you choose should reflect your brand’s values, character, and tone. You’ll want to establish how primary, secondary, and tertiary colors should be used. Generally, the fewer colors you have, the more impactful your brand will be. More colors give your brand more flexibility but less distinctiveness. 

As you make color choices, remember over 8 million Americans have a vision impairment. These people might rely on a screen magnifier or a screen reader or have a form of color blindness. Follow accessibility standards in all mediums.

6. Shapes, Treatments, Texture & Patterns 

Textures and patterns can also go a long way to giving depth and personality to a brand. For example, rubbed blue jeans and concrete textures communicate that a brand represents blue collar members who work hard. Marble patterns often communicate higher education and government. Whatever you choose, specify how these additional elements should be used in your guidelines. 

7. Photography/Video

You should specify a photographic/video style, lighting, and editing style. If you have a distinct demographic you serve or specific diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, make sure to include guidelines on who should be in your photos and videos. 

Because events are a big part of member organizations, consider adding a subsection about shooting events in your guidelines. That way, anytime you hire a professional photographer or videographer to capture one of your events, they’ll have clear ideas of your organization’s dos and don’ts. If you have an online photo library, link it in your guidelines and leave instructions on how to gain access.

If you have standard branded video bumpers (intros and outros) link them in your guidelines as well. 

8. Iconography

Icons are used more often than you may think. The icons your organization uses should reinforce your brand aesthetic and story. You may want to develop a custom icon library that will save you time and money in the long run. If your organization creates a lot of fact sheets or reports, you will want to invest in creating a library of your most frequently used symbols. 

9. Illustration

Illustrations are a powerful communications tool when you need to convey concepts that don’t fit in the frame of a photo or the confines of reality. They can also provide a strong dose of your brand’s personality and be a visual differentiator. Like any other visual element, you need to be consistent with your illustration style and tie it to your brand (i.e. utilize your color palette.)

10. Brand in use

Your document full of rules and guidelines can seem quite conceptual and theoretical. So it’s wise to show your brand “in action” as well. In this section of your guidelines, show brand components applied across a variety of mediums (for example, on letterhead, presentation decks, signage, and events).

Tips for Ease of Use

You don’t want your brand guidelines to be a burden to your team; you want it to make their jobs easier. Creating a quick reference guide and offering appropriate training will help them on their way. 

Reference Guide

You don’t want your team to be overwhelmed by rules, so simplify the brand guidelines adoption process. Make and distribute an easy one-page cheat sheet with top brand elements you want everyone to use regularly, like color codes and typeface specifications. 


Schedule meetings with your entire staff to educate them on the brand. While not every department needs to be educated on every guideline, everyone needs core brand and messaging training. Depending on your company culture and dynamics, it may be best to leverage the “outside authority” of your branding partner and have them deliver this presentation.

Final Thoughts on Brand Guidelines

After all your brand guideline work is complete, you’ll need to keep your guidelines from getting outdated. Instead of managing files in several places, consider a DAM system that allows you to maintain a single digital source of truth. This is a very helpful solution if you produce a lot of different materials with a variety of vendors or have a large distributed team. 

Your brand guidelines need to be maintained, enforced, and celebrated. Throw a party and gift your employees new branded apparel and swag. Your guidelines can seem like a lot of new rules and extra work. So make sure people understand what the brand is communicating, why it will benefit them, the organization, and most importantly — your members.

A sophisticated brand system and accompanying guidelines document are some of the best investments you can make in your organization. Expert designers, writers, videographers, and photographers will understand how to innovate within your brand system and engage your members, present, and future. Done right, a branding system cuts to the chase, answers questions, focuses resources, and empowers good people to do amazing work.

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