Be Not Afraid: Blogging inspiration from an African Missionary


Learning to Blow Bubbles


Let me introduce you to my favorite cause-related blog.

It’s not fancy.  It’s not self-hosted.  Heck, it’s not even spell-checked.

And yet, I never miss an entry.  It regularly makes me cry.  I recently made my first donation, and I’ve considered tagging along on a future mission trip.

Why do I love it?  When I read I feel as if I’ve stepped  into Ashley’s shoes.  I can feel her love for the children.  I understand her heartbreak about not being able to fix everything that needs fixing–and am so awed by her willingness to keep “showing up” to do the part that she can.

What makes my infatuation with her blog even more amazing is that I am, in many ways, sooo not her target audience.  I am not a member of the church through which she does her work.  In fact our faith traditions are about as far apart as two Christian outlooks can be.  Prior to reading her blog, I spent little to no time thinking about Africa at all.

But those details don’t matter.  The blog doesn’t approach her work  from an intellectual level and she never tries to convince me of anything.  She simply opens a window into her world, shares why she does what she does,  and lets her obvious love (and she would say Jesus) do the rest.

Where’s the learning for me?

Passion is more important than precision.  By a lot.  If you scrub every post until it is technically perfect, adequately researched, and ready for peer review you have missed the point.

The purpose of your blog isn’t to show the world how smart you are*.

The purpose of your blog is to show your potential people how much you care.  And, if you are lucky, to give them a chance to walk a moment in your shoes so they can prepare themselves to join you on the path.**

*At least, it’s not if you are blogging for a cause, arts organization or other nonprofity something or other.  If you are blogging for Mensa, I suppose that would be different.
**Why yes, that is, at least in part, a euphemism for “give you money.”

The power of positive language

I spent the weekend running an awesome robot competition, so I asked Catherine Caine to write this week’s awesome blog post.  You will not be disappointed.

Catherine is passionate about helping people to start and grow an awesome website: she’s even published a manifesto about it. When she’s not adding 5 minute missions to, she can invariably be found on Twitter.

Photo Credit: D Sharon Pruitt

Have you ever had a four-year-old tell you about something they did? With a mystifying painting of blobs in their hands they will burble excitedly about how this is a bird and this is Daddy and this is a helichopper… Even if this isn’t your kid and you’re a professional art critic you’re enchanted and engaged by their enthusiasm.

By comparison, a fifteen-year-old telling you about their day is a monosyllabic stream of sighs and frowns. The best you get is “It was pretty good, I guess”. According to a fifteen-year-old, everything is painted in shades of suck. You tell them about something you’re interested in and all you get is shrugs and “whatever”. What a buzzkill.

So which one do you sound like when you’re talking about what you do?

“Serious” does not mean “grim”

Child abuse, poverty, extinction, homelessness… nonprofits often work in the hard places, and see a lot of cruel and depressing sights. It’s so easy to come away from the excellent work you’re doing and talk about it like you’re an undertaker. You need to consciously resist that tendency.

It hurts your donors
People want to feel they’re making a difference, that the money they give you is going to accomplish great things. If they feel everything is hopeless and grim, they’ll think “What I do doesn’t matter, why should I bother?” and stop donating.

It hurts your volunteers
Most nonprofits work for causes that are in it for the long haul. Your volunteers need to keep their spirits up so they can avoid burnout and keep contributing.

It hurts your family
Your loved ones don’t want to see you come home every day and sigh when they ask how your day went. They want you to be happy and fulfilled, not miserable!

It hurts you
Nonprofit work is emotionally tough. How you talk about your work (both internally and externally) changes how you feel about it. Your language determines how you feel about your work. Do you want to feel tired, hopeless, resigned, unappreciated and powerless? Or does fired up, grateful, empowered, proud and satisfied sound better?

What to do about it

Always write with positive language. Remember that four-year-old, so excited about the work she’s done? Ignore any voice in yourself that says that charity is Serious Business and write something that’s joyous and excited about the work you’re doing and the results it’s having. Use exclamation marks and words like:

  • fortunately
  • excited
  • happy
  • triumph
  • surprised
  • improved
  • success
  • shared
  • victory
  • empowered
  • delighted
  • sunshine
  • passionate
  • fantastic
  • saved
  • glorious
  • appreciated

And of course, my personal favorite: awesome.

Encourage your volunteers to share their best moment of the day and do the same yourself when people ask how your day was. Start with “Why, it was fantastic!”

And when you catch yourself talking about the work in downcast tones, rephrase it immediately. You are your organization’s  most precious resource, so look after your emotional well-being!

An open letter to Non-Profit bloggers

photo credit: a.drain

To whom it may concern:

Please stop using your blog to prove how smart you are.

I know that you are brilliant.  I see the PhD behind your name.  I understand your work is serious and the world needs to know just how complex the problem is and what you are doing to fix it.

The thing is, your blog is not the place to tell me about it.  I read your blog over my lunch hour, or with my morning coffee, or when I need a break from a difficult problem at work.  When you write giant swaths of text with acronyms I don’t know and complex sentence structure,   my eyes slide off your words and I am forced to go look at pictures of sleeping kittens.

It’s not that I don’t  care, or even that there isn’t a place for the detailed analysis.  I’m just asking that you give me a chance to get to know you before we get into the deep stuff.

Let’s start with a nice success story that includes pictures of happy kids you helped this month.  What about a behind-the-scenes piece about what really goes on in the rehearsal hall?  Even a list of all the great things you could do if I send money is better than what I can only imagine is recycled bits of your dissertation.

It turns out (on your blog at least) the super dense, scholarly articles don’t make me trust you more, or remind me of how dire the problem is– they make me feel like there is no room for me in your organization.  They don’t make me want to learn more, they make me leave.

I believe in you and I believe in your cause.  I want to support you and yes, I want to read your blog.  Just give me an opening*.


A Potential Donor

*and an occasional picture of a kitten would be nice.