Posts tagged words to avoid
Kitchen Gadgets and Hair Care

Last week, we shared a story about how rejection can clarify your brand integrity.  (If you missed it, you can read it here).  We got lots of nice feedback on the piece, including

[This story] spoke to me, as the sole independent contractor at a very small nonprofit, very specifically. I feel like our size of nonprofit is incredibly overlooked. Us scrappy part-time/strictly-volunteer organizers that are used to googling our ways to solutions that larger orgs would hire someone to do.

--Katie Myers, Center Stage Jackson.  

We loved to hear we’re supporting our friends in their important work, but we owe a bigger thanks for a single word that Katie used earlier in her email.

She referred to our tools.  And, we’ve been saying products.  
And her word is soooooo much better.

Here at Storybook Foundry we enjoy semantics, so we are going to indulge in a short journey into the words tool and product.  (If you aren’t into the philosophy of words, you can skip to the end. We won’t be offended.)

skin care product.jpg

When thinking of the word product, a couple things come to mind.  
Hair and skin care products—particularly hair gel and mousse.  
Also, mathematics. Product is another way to talk about multiplication.

Do math and hair styling relate to what Storybook Foundry is attempting?  

mathmatical prodcut.jpg

Well, the idea of multiplying is good. We like the idea that our clients take what we have and take what they have and multiply them together into something much greater.  

But hair styling?  That doesn’t sit so well, because styling is just temporary.  It’s not long lasting change or improvement.

If we think about products in a business sense, often they are things you buy and then use as they are.  They are static and finished things. Products are the end result of a process, not part of one.

what does the word tool bring to mind?  

Seems we have to acknowledge that ‘tool’ is sometimes used to refer to jerks.  But that’s not the most common way it’s used in the business world. So, we acknowledge it and move on.

kitchen tools.jpg

Tools are things that make accomplishing something much, much easier.  Our founder, Ara, does a lot of baking, but without all the fancy tools--like mixers, pastry cutters, or even specialized pans. Things work out, but mixing bread dough by hand takes a lot longer (and a lot more tired muscles) than using an electric mixer and dough hooks.

We’ve all had to ‘Macgyver’ things and make do without the right tools.  But we also all know how much easier it is with them. Ever use a pneumatic ratchet instead of taking your lug nuts off by hand?  

But tools also don’t have to be complicated.  We often overlook the simplest tools we use every day.  A pencil is a tool. So is a broom and a comb.

Katie is right.  We’ve made tools.

We’ve created templates that are simple to use, allowing nonprofits and small businesses accomplish larger projects.  They aren’t a product because they aren’t static. And even after an organization has completed them, they shouldn't get put on the shelf.  They go on to get folded into larger projects and used over and over again.

(We tried to figure out where we even got the word ‘product.’  Best we can sort, it’s because that’s the word that Squarespace uses to describe things you sell. And we failed to take our own advice and think about our words.)

Thanks to Katie for helping us figure out another word that’s one to avoid.  And providing a great example for us to use to share the process of identifying and thinking through Words to Avoid and Words to Use Instead.  


What you aren't is part of who you are

When we were in the early stages of putting together Storybook Foundry, I met with everyone I could think of to get feedback from those who might use our products and services.  I got great feedback: “that’s so needed” was a phrase I heard over and over.

Then, I had coffee with someone who now is a VP of a multimillion dollar nonprofit.  He brings varied experiences to his current position and is one of those ‘gets things done’ people.  I was excited to hear his ideas about markets, efforts, and products that I hadn’t dreamed up yet.

But that’s not how the conversation went.  

I explained what the Storybook was--a collection of templates that were easy to use that allowed nonprofits to get everyone on the same ‘page.’  That unlike other consulting, there was an option for nonprofit leaders to do the majority of the heavy lifting themselves.

His response:  “I’d just pay a marketing firm a couple thousand dollars to do that.  I don’t have the time or interest in doing it myself.”

While I’m sure he meant to be helpful, it about killed me to hear that.  

Because I heard, “This idea is crap.  No one is going to want it.”

It didn’t help that at this moment in the process, we had hit other roadblocks and it felt like the business would never get off the ground. I’ll be honest, we almost threw in the towel.

But now this conversation is an important part of the Storybook Foundry story.  A turning point, even. This moment of criticism has become a sentiment that has helped Storybook Foundry hone its mission.

The reply to “I would just hire a marketing firm for a couple thousand dollars” is:

“You’re right.  YOU would do that.  But there are so many organizations out there that are running on shoe strings.  Organizations with only several part time staff, that rely on board members to write press releases and annual appeals because they don’t have a marketing or development department.  And there aren’t nearly enough things out there to help these scrappy nonprofits compete with organizations that have more at their disposal. And THAT is where Storybook Foundry comes in.”

I now know I was talking to the wrong audience.  Our clients aren’t multimillion dollar organizations.  Our clients are organizations with $50,000-$250,000 budgets.  Our clients are nonprofits that are scraping together $2,000 for a development consultant that want to get the most out of their investment.  Our clients are those who don’t have a marketing firm on retainer.

I now know that what felt like a blow was actually an affirmation we were on the right track.  

What have you learned your organization isn't and how has that helped you define what you are? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

And if you haven’t thought much about it, give our Words to Avoid template process a try.

Love is.... or, the Romeo and Juliet Principle

Romeo and Juliet.  

Two teenagers fall in love, think they can’t be together, and kill themselves.  Most of us have read it (or were supposed) in school. Many of us have seen a stage or movie version of the story.  

But here’s the funny thing.  Even though we’ve all been exposed to the same play, we might not agree on what it’s about.  

What’s the take away of Romeo and Juliet?

Here’s the two I hear most often:

Love conquers all

Teenagers are stupid


There are others, of course.  For example, blind feuding only hurts the ones we love.  Or, always make sure you get a read receipt on the letters to your lover about your plan to stage your death.  But, love and stupidity are ones that are supported well by the text. And the two you most commonly see in stage productions.

But what does this have to do with marketing a nonprofit or small business?  Plenty.

When working on a theatrical production, everyone involved must be telling the same story, from actors to designers to directors.  If Romeo thinks the play is about love and Juliet thinks it’s about teenage stupidity, things aren’t going to work out well--in ways different than those in the script.  If the costume designer thinks the play is about stupidity, and costumes are fluffy and mismatched, while the set designer thinks it's about the power of love, and the sets are velvet and jewel-toned, nothing is going to work as a whole.  Your audience will be confused and neither moral will come across clearly.

And so many small businesses and nonprofits make similar mistakes.

 An executive director might be talking about senior food insecurity, while a development director talks about the impact of nutrition on school performance, and the board president focuses on how pretty food looks on a plate.  

None of these approaches are wrong, much like our Romeo and Juliet themes (though I admit, I find one of those themes much more compelling than the other, just like I find the development director’s approach most compelling in the above example).  But it is confusing. Imagine a supporter attending an event where the executive director speaks about seniors, getting an appeal from the development director about school performance, and then running into the board president at a community function and hearing about plating.  This supporter is going to be very confused about what this organization actually does.

Or, this organization contracts a graphic designer to put together some pieces to take to networking events.  She speaks primarily with the board president, and then both the executive director and the development director are stuck with printed pieces that feature pictures of food on plates, totally missing pictures of people served by the organization.

In order for everyone to communicate clearly, teams need to be telling the same story in similar ways.  

Not exactly the same way, of course--a development director is going to have a slightly different focus than a program manager--but everyone should be working toward the same end.  Communities need to understand what it is you do and why, and if some of your team is telling people that love conquers all, while others are talking about how stupid teenagers are, well, your supporters won’t understand.  

So how do you get on the same page?

A Mission and Vision Statement are a great place to start--active and accurate ones.  Too many organizations have such statements that they write and put on their website or in grants and then don’t think about them again.  So, dust yours off if you haven’t in the past six months. Is there anything that needs changing?

Once these are solidified, make sure all your team players have their elevator speeches down.  They should all be slightly different--you don’t want team members to sound like automatons! But spend some time having people share to make sure word choice, tone, style, and focus are all working on telling the same story.  

The Mission and Vision Statements and elevator speeches are all included in a single page of your Storybook, and you can find their templates on our website or in our online courses.

Likewise, Storybook Foundry’s Words to Avoid and Words to Use Instead is a succinct document that is fairly easy to create and even easier to use.  Should you avoid the phrase “Love Conquers All” and instead use “Love Is Dangerous?”


If your marketing and fundraising efforts haven’t been as successful as you had hoped, look at your language, tone, and style.  Are you telling too many versions of the same story and muddying the waters? A little bit of clarifying your language can go a long way!  So invest some time to make sure that the story you are telling is either about stupidity or love, but not both.