“We’re always looking for logo files and never seem to have the right one handy.”

“Our nonprofit needs guidelines on how to use our visual identity in social media.”

“We have a new logo that will be used by all of our members. How do we distribute it to everyone?”

Sound familiar? What’s the answer to these all-too-common situations? Style guide. Style guide. Style guide. If you have one, use it. If you don’t have one, get one. Make it the first thing you give anyone who does communication work for you. Keep it current. And make especially sure that the people inside your organization understand its value.

Adhering to a style guide is a strategic way to ensure that you present a consistent identity to your donors, stakeholders and even employees. Even relationships with long-time donors can be impacted by an inconsistent identity. It’s crucial to keep a consistent branding and focused message about the mission of your faith-based organization — so be sure not to confuse website visitors with conflicting visuals or messaging. Donors need to feel confident that all your marketing messages are coming from the same organization.

A style guide doesn’t have to be complex. It can start as a simple summary of how to use your logo accompanied with the correct file formats for print, online and other uses. Style guides can be posted online, and information can be added as needed. Other things to include in your style guide are primary and secondary color palettes and font family.

A style guide doesn’t kill creativity. Some people seem genetically coded to want to push the boundaries and break the rules — while others are so rigid about obeying the rules that their brand could die from boredom. A good guide offers enough flexibility to embrace creativity. You can have both.

A style guide needs regular checkups. It’s just like that six-month appointment with the dentist. Periodically, give your style guide a thorough cleaning, and evaluate where work needs to be done. Technology changes constantly, and new, improved tools are always rising to the top. The more you keep the style guide focused on what people need to do their jobs, the better your identity will be maintained.

According to Sarah Durham, author of Brandraising, “I’m a fan of style guides that are light on text and heavy on visuals so they are easy to scan and find what you need quickly.” Style guides are reference tools that need to be comprehensive yet simple if you want them to be used.

The bottom line: a successful visual identity requires buy-in from the people who use it day-in and day-out. You can’t be the brand police. Keep the guide current, accessible, flexible and clear. If you are struggling with creating a style guide, you can start by looking for inspiration from other organizations’ style guides or consider getting help from a capable freelancer or professional.

A style guide will make everyone’s lives easier — and will also keep your brand integrity intact.