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Charity logos: design and display

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We ask sector experts: what makes a good logo? And how important is it for a charity to invest in getting their branding and logo just right?

Logos matter: just look at the fuss created by the one for the 2012 Olympics. It seems neither money nor professional expertise can guarantee success. But what does “success” mean in this context, and where should smaller charities start?

What makes for a good logo?

Ben Matthews, founder of third sector communications agency Bright One, lists five principles of effective logo design:

  • simple (for easy recognition)
  • memorable (to increase recognition)
  • timeless
  • versatile (to work across a variety of mediums and applications)
  • appropriate.

What should a logo do?

James Gambrill, Director of Fundraising and Communications at Build Africa, comments: “A good logo can establish trust and brand recognition. The Build Africa logo says what we do, and where we do it.”

Mark Robertson, Director of Communications at Whizz-Kidz, adds that a logo should be distinctive enough to distinguish a charity from others working in the same field and, in addition, should “communicate something meaningful” about that charity’s personality.

Whizz-Kidz recently underwent a “brand refresh”, and while the charity retained its logo (which had established equity), the colours were updated and the final 'd' and 'z' of the logo (which form a wheelchair shape) highlighted, to flag up the charity’s beneficiaries. The logo, Mark says, also conveys a sense of playfulness, reflecting the charity’s young service users.

What are the trends in logo design?

Simplicity is everything, says Richard Sunderland, Managing Director of brand agency Heavenly. This is especially true for corporates, who are favouring classic, simple fonts and styles. Blue - “traditionally the colour of stability” – is also proving popular.

Trends among start-ups tend to be slightly less severe. Richard notes “more use of handwriting or hand-crafted fonts, brighter colours and a little more personality".

Besides simplicity, Richard points to the trend for incorporating URLs into logos (for instance This can be particularly useful for charities: “Using a URL within the logo becomes important if it’s a call to action.”

How do logos work within the larger context of brand?

Separating a logo from the rest of the brand package can be difficult, and Richard Sunderland emphasises a holistic approach. Good brands, he says, can be identified even without the aid of their logo. “If you cover up the UPS logo on a brown van, you know it’s UPS. It’s because they use a ‘kit of parts’.” These include not just a logo, but a distinctive colour palette, font style, and related brand property (“visual devices associated with the brand”).

What is the value of a logo, and how much is it worth investing in design?

When it comes to logos, measuring return on investment can be tricky. However, Ben Matthews observes: “investing in a good logo can pay dividends for years to come, as it becomes a calling card for your charity.” Spending money on design shouldn’t be a priority, though. “It pays more to be known for the fantastic work that you do, rather than what your logo looks like.”

Helen Sykes, Senior Events and Multimedia Executive at Action for Children, adds: “A logo is only as good as the marketing and communications it’s supporting – it’s no use spending funds on logo design and not being able to use it anywhere.”

Engaging in a costly branding exercise is also not a prerequisite. Mark Robertson of Whizz-Kidz advises always talking to staff, beneficiaries and supporters to determine whether an exercise is really necessary. “Ask your supporters what they think,” seconds Ben Matthews. “Some well-meaning but honest feedback could be just what your brand needs.”

What part can pro bono work play?

Like many charities, Whizz-Kidz received pro bono support with branding. “It’s quite possible to get really high-quality advice and design input without spending money,” says Mark Robertson. Whizz-Kidz, who have a turnover of £5m, spent nothing on their “refresh”.

But what about the hidden costs involved in pro bono support? As Ben Matthews of Bright One points out, pro bono work can be time-consuming and hard to keep on track. The process for Whizz-Kidz, however, has been overwhelmingly positive. “A company providing their expertise on a pro bono basis can be just as valuable as a company fundraising for you,” says Mark of his own charity’s experience.

How strictly should charities police their logos?

James Gambrill comments: “Build Africa is a small charity and we want to get our name out there, so although we ask people to follow our brand guidelines, we wouldn’t restrict the use of the logo.” These guidelines emphasise that the Build Africa logo should appear on all material, shouldn’t be redrawn or rotated, and so on.

Action for Children also has clear guidelines on appropriate use. “We are very strict about who has access to our logo,” says Helen Sykes. “There is a web form on our Brand Toolkit page for people to complete in order to be given access to download the logo. We use this as an opportunity to check what the logo will be used for.”

But, says Mark Robertson, while “proper controls” are important, it’s essential that materials are accessible to fundraisers. Whizz-Kidz, for example, has created a pre-branded poster, which supporters can then adapt, allowing the charity to have some control.

Logos and branded merchandising - what works?

According to Mark Robertson, branded clothing, which allows supporters to identify themselves when fundraising or volunteering, is invaluable. Whizz-Kidz fundraisers regularly run in the London Marathon, and t-shirts worn by both runners and supporters play a part. “Groups of people wearing Whizz-Kidz t-shirts really motivates runners to complete the event, and it also gives you a great set of assets for marketing those events in the future, in terms of images that are all branded.”

As a service provider for young children, Whizz-Kidz also produces items such as branded pens and string bags, to encourage a sense of group identity and thereby help increase the probability of long-term engagement.

However, Helen Sykes of Action for Children advises caution. “You need a strong online following or lots of publicity to achieve high sales if you are a relatively young brand.” She urges smaller charities to consult their target audiences before investing, and to begin with a small list of items.

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Page last edited Jul 12, 2021

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