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The Psychology Behind Color and The Color of Charity

It’s no secret that color is a key visual indicator that evokes emotion and communicates meaning. But just how much goes on in our minds when it comes to color and what does this mean for nonprofits? What is the color your supporters will associate with donating?

Personal experiences and cultural norms influence the way people interpret color. For example, we associate urgency and alerts with red because of emergency lights and hospital signs. 

While there is no specific color of charity, the colors you choose to represent your organization and fundraisers will impact how people feel about them. In other words, the colors you use will affect how your message is perceived—for instance, do we generally expect baby blue to communicate strength or yellow to indicate seriousness?  

To help your nonprofit make better use of color, this guide will explore three tips for using color in your fundraisers:

  1. Be consistent with your nonprofit’s colors.
  2. Use contrasting colors strategically. 
  3. Use specific, memorable colors and combinations. 

The various ways you use color when communicating with donors can affect how your brand is remembered, and even impact the likelihood of a donor acting on your next appeal.

Be consistent with your nonprofit’s colors.

No matter what colors you choose to represent your brand, ensure you are consistent with the use of that palette across channels. 

You can ensure your nonprofit maintains consistent branding even when having multiple people in charge of outreach by creating a brand guide. Core aspects of this guide should include:

  • Specific color information. Create a page dedicated to the specific colors your nonprofit uses that includes sample swathes of the colors and their RGB/CYM values. This will help graphic designers match your colors when creating new materials without having to worry about discrepancies that might occur due to differences in screen displays.
  • Core images and patterns. Some organizations have specific images or patterns associated with their colors. For example, an organization that uses plaid might have a preference for how their colors should appear in that pattern. 
  • Notes for different platforms and contexts. Nonprofits use their colors across a variety of channels, and there likely will be instances where it makes sense to use colors in different ways. For example, if a nonprofit has a logo with a colored background, they should create notes in their brand guide about what to do in situations that call for a background-less or transparent logo. 

Establishing a core set of images and colors for your organization and using them consistently throughout your marketing ensures potential supporters will immediately recognize your nonprofit. This helps your audience form an association with your work and your visual identity, and can even start to build a preference for your organization.

Use contrasting colors strategically.

Nonprofits often wonder what color they should use for their external materials, especially key components like their donation button. While many feel that a strong color, like red, is always the right answer, it actually depends on the circumstances. 

A donation button’s color needs to attract attention, and a nonprofit with a predominantly orange and yellow color scheme won’t make their donation button stand out with the color red. Our brains immediately notice colors that deviate from their surroundings, which means nonprofits need to know a little bit about two concepts related to the color wheel to choose the right colors for their brand:

  • Adjacent. Colors that are next to each other on the color wheel are adjacent. When viewed together, these colors seem cohesive and even appear calming due to the lack of contrast. For example, a design with red, orange, and yellow may include colors that mean alert or danger, but taken together feel warm and relaxed. 
  • Complementary. Complementary colors are placed directly opposite each other on the color wheel and produce a sharp contrast when viewed next to each other. There are three complementary color pairs: red-green, blue-orange, and yellow-purple. 

Use this knowledge to coordinate your overall color scheme and choose different colors that will attract attention. For example, a nonprofit that uses primarily blues and greens in its color scheme may be able to make a big impact with a reddish-orange donation button. 

Additionally, consider how you can use contrasting color to guide supporters through your materials. Contrasting colors and bold highlights can help your key points stand out to busy readers on the go, or the presence of a few yellow highlights on an otherwise black-and-white text-based message can effectively lead eyes down the page.

Use specific, memorable colors and combinations. 

People seem to gravitate more to colors that have elaborate or descriptive names. Think raspberry instead of pink, or mahogany instead of brown. This is likely because these specific names allow us to precisely visualize and remember them. 

When choosing a new color scheme, consider working alongside a graphic designer to pick your color palette. Their expertise working with color can help you visualize how color schemes can be used to work with or help you create a new logo. They can provide professional insight into how color combinations work and even draft outlines for how future marketing materials will look. 

The color of charity is whatever color your nonprofit chooses to use in a cohesive, consistent manner across your external materials. Choose a color scheme that reflects your nonprofit’s mission, and use contrasting colors strategically when it’s time to stand out. 

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