Nonprofit Performance 360 Issue 13

Grants Corner


Branding to Inspire Funders with Confidence

Cynthia Adams

Ara Beal

Cynthia M. Adams interviewed Ara Beal of Storybook Foundry to get a sense of how branding and storytelling can influence grantmakers and build your nonprofit brand. Ara Beal is a theater professional and runs a small arts nonprofit. She is also the founder of StorybookFoundry,whichhelpsnonprofitsunify their concept around language and messaging. It’s about style, brand, tone, focus, and genre. Cynthia: Hello, Ara.Thank you for talking with me about this idea of branding, and how storytelling can enhance this concept. Let’s start by letting our readers know a little bit about who you are, and what Storybook Foundry is all about. Ara: I have a background in theatre production, education, and arts administration. I’ve encountered lots of small nonprofits in these fields that are attempting to do really good work with very limited resources. I wanted to take the strategies I had developed and help these organizations maximize their impact. Storybook Foundry provides tools so that organizations can unify their voice. Having a board member write a press release? No problem, they’ll know what language and tone to use.Hiring a new marketing intern? They can easily see your visual brand and

get started. I compare our tools to boxed cake mix. Almost anyone can make a pretty tasty cake with Duncan Hines, even if you don’t consider yourself a professional baker. Cynthia: I know you’ve published a Branding Style Guide template. Can share your thinking behind this publication? Why did you feel compelled to write it? Ara: It comes from a personal experience I hadwhen,as a young nonprofit professional, I sent out an email that didn’t include any branding (wrong colors, wrong font, no logo) and I was pretty severely chastised in a meeting. When I started putting together Storybook Foundry’s tools, I wanted to be sure to include a template that someone without a marketing and design background could complete and use. If I had had access to my Branding Style Guide when I wrote that email all those years ago, it would have been much more effective. Part of our goal at Storybook Foundry is to help those nonprofit staff members who find themselves doing design, marketing, PR, and other work they were never trained to do. Instead of their doing some Googling and hoping for the best, we provide them with guidance without a lot of jargon.

Cynthia: You say in your guide that there are some basic rules about how an organization’s documents should look if you’re trying to build a brand. Can you share some of those rules with us? Ara: I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules (although I’m sure others think so), except that your documents should be consistent. One of the templates we offer is a collection of work samples . For some organizations, these are going to be fancy and glossy. For others, they might just be documents that are created in Word. And either is okay as long as there’s consistency. In theatre, we talk about conventions: shortcuts that help your audience understand the theatre experience. For example, when the lights go down, you know the show is going to start. You know you are supposed to ignore the people in black moving scenery around. Branding is setting conventions. That’s all. You can make up whatever rules you want; you just have to follow them. Cynthia: So these conventions are used to help folks visually recognize who you are, and I totally understand that. It is something many nonprofits have done for ages. But branding, per se, seems to have moved up on the list of issues a nonprofit should be thinking about. It makes me sort of nervous.

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