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Just Pretty Isn't Enough

I learned almost everything I know about nonprofit management, marketing, and design by doing it.  And by doing it, I mean screwing it up and having someone tell me. And then doing it better next time.  

Like the time we sent an appeal letter that was just signed “The board of X.”  I know! Cringe worthy, right? Just one of the times I had someone kindly point out mistakes that made me better at what I do.  

But today’s lesson-learned-the-hard-way story is about emails.

Right after I started my first nonprofit job, I was so excited to send my first email to our email list.  I was just an associate, but was promoting a program I was working on. I was given the log on information for our Constant Contact account.  So, I logged on and figured out how to format an email. I thought it looked pretty nice. It had a nice blue/yellow color scheme, a nice picture, and clear text.  So out it went.

I think the email even had a pretty good open and click rate.  “Success!” I thought.

The company’s marketing and design contractor had a different opinion.  This particular contractor would often tell us we should have him do things or run things by him before sending, printing, etc.  And to some extent he was right. His stuff looked better than our stuff. But there wasn’t always money or time for that.

But he was right on this one.

“Who sent this email out?” he asked next time we all met.  I said I did. He, with some frustration, asked, “Where did you get those colors?  Why doesn’t it have a logo on it? And what the hell is up with this font?”*

Not the kindest of feedback, but when I looked at the email again, I knew he was right.  Nothing besides the “from” email address said that email was ours.

Even though it looked pretty great by itself.

Pretty is not enough.

I learned my lesson the hard way.  And helped that company create templates in Constant Contact that had our logo and colors so it’d be easier to be consistent moving forward, no matter who was creating emails.

Now, I have a Brand Quick Reference that has all my colors, fonts, and logos in one document.  And I have that saved multiple places so it’s always quick to open.  Plus printed copies that travel in my planner and are posted by my desk.  If I had been provided with such a document all those years ago, that first email would have looked a lot better.  Which is exactly why I created the Storybook Foundry, to help your those on your team avoid those missteps and keep your organization looking professional and consistent.

What lessons have you learned the hard way?  What one page piece would you create to help others from making the same mistake?

The what, how, and why of Storybook Foundry
costumes ready to go

What’s a Storybook and how was it developed?

Storybook Foundry brings together my experience and expertise in theater and nonprofit management.

In theater, I primarily work as a director or producer. Several questions always drive this work for me. What story are we going to tell? What meaning is the audience going to make? Is the story I'm trying to tell the same story the audience hears? After decades in this work, I've learned it's imperative to be clear and specific with others working on the production about what the story is and how we are telling it. My biggest complaint when I see theatre tends to be that this conversation was so obviously missing from rehearsals and production meetings.

In my nonprofit work, I saw a parallel. I've worked with lots of organizations that have not clearly identified which audience an event or piece of publicity is for. I've worked with organizations that are sloppy with their language, where board members don't know the legal name of the organization, organizations that people can only describe as "I think they do something with housing?"

I've also worked with numerous grant writers, website developers, and marketing consultants who are unable to be effective because they can't get information from the organization. Sometimes these frustrations led to missed grant deadlines, mistakes on websites, or even abruptly terminated contracts.

So I created a solution to this problem. I created the Storybook.

What is a Storybook?

I started with the question: "Wouldn't it be great if organizations could spend a few hours putting together something that answers the question, 'How do we talk about ourselves?' to hand to new board members, volunteers and staff, as well as contract grant writers, development consultants and more?" Since the answer was a resounding yes! I began to put together what that would look like.

A Storybook includes 10 pieces, for a total of 10-20 pages

1. Branding Style Guide

2. Writing Style Guide

3. Work Samples

4. Words to Avoid and Words to Use Instead

5. Mission, Vision and Elevator Statements

6. Year in Numbers

7. Year in Pictures

8. Go-to Paragraphs

9. In Their Own Words

10. Online Presence

A Storybook is NOT a press packet. Rather, it's an internal document that those who speak about your company can use as a cheat sheet, a refresher, and even as the beginning of pieces to be published.

A Storybook should be fairly easy for you to create. Most likely, this information is rolling around your brain, or the brains of others working with you. But, as busy executive directors, program managers, board presidents, or whatever your title might be, we don't take the time to sit down and compile this information.

A Storybook is NOT a static document. It's a living one. Every year you should update your Year in Numbers and Year in Pictures and switch out a few of your testimonials. Refine and edit to keep it and your organization's self-images strong and clear.

A Storybook should end up saving you money, and help you raise more money. By providing new staff and consultants with a concise introduction to your organization, they can be productive sooner. Current staff won't have to spend time curating and compiling this information when someone new comes on board. And contract grant writers, website designers, and consultants will be able to work their magic more easily when they are provided with information. Your published pieces will be more uniform. And when your community's understanding of what you do comes into clearer focus, their support will increase.

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