What Airbnb can teach nonprofits about storytelling

Every story gives us a chance to choose. Do we set up a “them and us” narrative, or will we do the work to offer another perspective?

Have you seen the whimsical ad Airbnb runs to encourage people to become hosts?

I can see why people might be hesitant to allow strangers into their space. We are conditioned to look at people who are not like us as either scary or exotic. Since childhood, most of us have been warned of “stranger danger”.

The ad features a family of shaggy “monsters” enjoying their vacation. It starts where many of us are when it comes to inviting strangers to stay in our homes–it’s a little scary. But then we see a delightful series of scenes: enjoying a beautiful view with a cuppa tea, a family hike, collecting shells, taking selfies, cooking, playing games…

These are simple things we enjoy with our own families.

The shaggy monsters clean up after themselves, straighten a picture on the wall, and leave a thank you note. As they close the door, we finally see them as they really are–a human family, just like us.

Kevin Morby’s song, Beautiful Strangers, provides a relaxed musical backdrop. Not a word is spoken. It’s a beautifully orchestrated story with an important message:

Strangers aren’t that strange. We have more in common than not.

The stories we tell can build bridges

Unfortunately, in our attempts to elicit emotion (or donations), we often emphasize our differences rather than our shared humanity. When we do this, we miss opportunities to present a realistic and nuanced view of the problems we solve. At worst, we reinforce stereotypes and even exploit the people we are called to serve.

Every story gives us a chance to choose. Do we set up a “them and us” narrative, or will we do the work to offer another perspective?


Help Donors Read Your Fundraising Materials

Help Donors Read Your Fundraising Materials

Make your fundraising materials more inviting and easier to read, so more people can join you in your life-changing mission. 

Your work is important! But that doesn’t mean people will read your emails, blog posts and newsletters. Sorry. It’s the truth.

Why don’t people read all that wonderful content your organization puts out? 

  • We’re tired
  • We don’t think there’s something of value for us
  • It’s boring (think story instead of reports)
  • It’s too long or too difficult

In this episode, I tackle the “too difficult” problem, with simple tips to make your content easy for donors to read.

According to the Literacy Project, about half of Americans read at an 8th-grade level or lower. If your writing is above an 8th grade reading level (some would say grade 6-7 max), you are not communicating with your audience as well as you could.

Even people who read at a higher level will appreciate a story that’s easy to read. Great writers embrace simplicity. Novels are generally written at a grade 5-7 level, while non-fiction titles come in at grade 8-9.

Your donors are giving you their time and attention. Don’t make them spend that time wading through complex prose. Your writing can be beautiful and easy to read.

Reading level is affected by:

  • length of sentences
  • word choice
  • grammar
  • content structure
  • active voice vs passive voice
  • wordiness
  • use of adverbs

Tools to help simplify your writing

Word will give you a reading level score and Flesch Reading Ease score. Find out how to locate these tools on the Microsoft support site. I like to use the Hemingway App. Hemingway highlights hard-to-read sentences and words that make your writing more difficult to read. This highlighting action lets you go straight to the problem areas, and shows you in real time how your changes affect readability.

After Hemingway, I like to read what I’ve written out loud. You can also get Word to read to you. When you’re listening, you can hear mistakes. You can hear when the writing gets monotonous or repetitive. Once you have that done, go through once more for spelling and punctuation. Now you’re on your way to communicating clearly with your audience!


Three Takeaways for Communicators from TVE4

Three Takeaways for Communicators from TVE4

My three top takeaways from the Virtual Event on Virtual Events, and how you can serve your people by sharing the things you learn.

I try to attend something every year that’s outside of but adjacent to my field. It helps me see things with fresh eyes. New possibilities, solutions to old problems, and a break from the routine.  I recently attended The Virtual Event for Virtual Events and came away inspired and energized.

Here are my top three takeaways for any communicator (even if you’re not doing events):

  1. Write in sand, not cement. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Jump in. Get into the mix. Have those fun awkward conversations as you figure things out. Go on a journey with your people and figure it out together! 
  2. Macro clear, micro easy. Get absolutely clear on what problem you solve for the people you serve. How do you make a difference for them? Once you’re clear on that, the other things fall into place.
  3. Show what’s possible. Everything you do shows the people you serve what is possible, so you can’t afford to play small. 

My challenge to you:
Take something you learned through an event, conference, sermon, or personal experience and share that with your with your audience. 

Why you need stories to raise funds

Why you need stories to raise funds

You need to tell stories to raise more funds for your mission, ministry or nonprofit. But why is that? What exactly is it that stories do?

When I joined David Oaks’ end-of-year fundraising accelerator in August 2021, David and I were experimenting. We worked with eight small organizations and walked them through their end-of-year fundraising. None of these organizations had done year-end campaigns before, and every one did better than they’d ever done. Some saw wild success, but others still struggled. The difference, at least as far as David and I could see, was the ability to tell powerful stories in writing. 

Writing & storytelling make a difference in your fundraising

We talked and we said we have to do something. There has to be some way to help them with their written storytelling projects. That’s when Mission Writers was born. I started Mission Writers in February this year, 2022. The idea was to get writers together and help them help missionaries and small ministries and nonprofits write these stories. We’re still learning and experimenting, but I’ve become even more convinced that this is going to make a tremendous difference for these small organizations’ ability to raise funds. 

Let’s look at some reasons we need to tell stories, and why we need to become skilled storytellers. 

Why Tell Stories?

  • Stories help us connect – When you listen to a story, your brainwaves  actually start to synchronize with those of the storyteller. 
  • Research shows compelling stories cause our brains to release oxytocin, increase empathy, and have the power to affect our behaviors.
  • Stories help us remember who we are and what we’re about. Donors give to their values. Telling stories that reflect those values help donors make good decisions about whether you’re a good match for them. 
  • Stories reveal truths – your storytelling can help people see the world in a new way. Shift perspectives, overcome prejudices.
  • Stories offer dignity and context for beneficiaries, and give them a voice.
  • Stories put our critical minds aside for a moment, and we willingly enter into the narrative. We try to find ourselves in the story. 
  • Stories give us context to make sense of all those things.

Stories give donors context to see where they fit in accomplishing the mission.

Every known culture tells stories. This is the way we make sense of the world and our place in it. All through the donor journey, especially with people who are not yet aware of you and your mission. Stories help draw them in, and help them get to know, like, and trust you. 

You don’t just “need a story” to fill a space in your newsletter. You need a story to show donors what they can accomplish by giving to your mission. Where do they fit in this story? Not just through giving, but in the big picture of a world where this thing is a problem. They can reflect their values, glorify God, ease suffering, and experience deep personal satisfaction by stepping into this story and playing an active role.

In our ministries, stories are an invitation into a world most people haven’t experienced. If I live in America and I’m immersed in church culture, and all my friends are Christians, I don’t give much thought to what it’s like to not know who Jesus is. To not have ever seen a bible. So, when you say you need funds to go and preach the gospel, or to live in another culture for several years so they can have a bible in their language, you can’t just start there. You have to bring donors into that world and give context to what you do and why you do it. You do that with stories.

You don’t just “need a story” to fill a space in your newsletter. You need a story to show donors what they can accomplish by giving to your mission. Click To Tweet

Use these questions to think about stories you might tell:

  • What are some of the questions people ask about what you do and why you do it?
  • What are some misconceptions people have?
  • What do you wish people knew?
  • What stories can you tell to donors to help them connect to the hands-on work (specially if your mission is far away, and they are not likely to ever experience it personally)?

I’m convinced one of the most powerful helps for us to tell better stories is to think about why we tell stories in the first place!