The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 15

60-Second Nonprofit Stories that Spark Conversation with Sam Horn

In this Episode:

Sam Horn, CEO of Intrigue Agency, shares techniques for crafting nonprofit stories that start conversations, intrigue your audience and inspire them to action.

Whether it’s a donor pitch, a virtual meeting or a face-to-face conversation, Sam and Boris discuss how to use story to illustrate the power of your work and gain the trust of your audience for your nonprofit.

Listen to this Episode

[00:00:17.810] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!.

[00:00:22.550] – Boris
Hi, everybody, and welcome to an episode of the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we’re very excited today, this is one of our first episodes back. And we’ve got a prolific speaker, author and communicator in general, Sam Horn. Sam is the CEO of the intrigue agency. Her three TEDx talks, nine books, including “POP!” And “Tongue Fu!”, have been distributed widely and she’s presented to Intel, Cisco, Fidelity, nationwide, Boeing and Capital One, among many other illustrious clients.

[00:00:53.360] – Boris
I asked Sam earlier, and she definitely works with nonprofits as well. So she’s going to really hone all of her messaging today just to help nonprofits get their word out more clearly and more effectively. She describes her superpower as helping organizations craft clear, concise, compelling presentations, pitches, website and marketing copy that earns the attention, support, trust and donations of stakeholders. And if she could help us all communicate our messaging as clearly as that, I think we’re going to have a great episode today.

[00:01:21.740] – Boris
So without any further ado, let’s bring Sam onto the show.

[00:01:28.250] – Sam Horn
Hey, Boris, I’ve been looking forward to sharing some ideas with your viewers and listeners.

[00:01:32.690] – Boris
That’s fantastic. Since I’m all about storytelling. Can you share your story with us just for a couple of minutes?

[00:01:38.840] – Sam Horn
You bet. Two minutes. Rock and roll. So some people may know that I helped start and run the Maui Writer’s Conference for 17 years. We did something that was unprecedented at the time. We gave people an opportunity to jump the chain of command. You could pitch your screenplay straight to Ron Howard. You could pitch your novel to the head of Random House. I mean, it was just, it had never been done before. But what we didn’t realize is that no one knew how to pitch.

[00:02:05.150] – Sam Horn
And after the first pitch meetings, one woman came out with tears in her eyes. And I went over. I said, “Are you OK?” She said, “I’m not OK. I just saw my dream go down the drain.” She said, “I put my three-hundred-page manuscript on the table”, and the agent took one look at it and said, “I don’t have time to read all that.” He said, “Tell me in 60 seconds what your project is about and why someone would want to read it”.

[00:02:29.690] – Sam Horn
And you know, Boris. It’s that, I watch those pitches and I could predict who is getting a deal without hearing a word being said based on one thing. Guess what? The decision makers eyebrows.

[00:02:43.340] – Sam Horn
Because if we’re describing our nonprofit or if someone says, “oh, well, tell me what you do,” or if someone says, “oh, I’ve heard about your upcoming fundraiser activity, tell me about it.” And it’s “wah wah wah wah wah wah wah.” If people’s eyes are crunched up, try it right now… Crunch up your, see, it means we’re confused. We don’t get it. And if they don’t get it, we don’t get it. And now if their eyebrows were unmoved, it meant they were unmoved or they had Botox. Now the eyebrows are up right now. Just arch your eyebrows, lift them. Ah, do you feel intrigued? Curious? That means we got what we care about in their mental door and in our short time together today, that’s what we’re going to talk about—is that in a very crowded and noisy world right now, if we’re a nonprofit leader, how can we get people’s eyebrows up so they’re intrigued, and curious and want to know more about what we’re doing in our nonprofit?

[00:03:39.770] – Boris
That’s amazing. Sam, you’re giving me flashbacks of my career in Hollywood and pitch sessions and the opportunity to pitch something to Ron Howard. I might completely melt if I had that opportunity. He’s one of my heroes. And of course, I’ve worked with startups and nonprofits. And getting that pitch honed is so difficult. And I’ll be honest, even for my own things, it’s difficult. I can help others much easier than I can help myself. So I’m really excited to get into some of the stuff. What… Where do where do we even begin?

[00:04:16.760] – Sam Horn
Here’s where we begin, Boris. And by the way, let’s clarify. Pitching isn’t just for baseball, right? Is it? People think, well, wait a minute, I went into this because I care about the kids or I went into this because I care about this cause. The bottom line is, is that Nancy F. Cohen out of Harvard found that goldfish have longer attention than we do. Nine seconds, goldfish, eight seconds, human beings.

[00:04:39.590] – Sam Horn
So when we say “pitch,” all we need, you know, this as we walk into a meeting, we get on a phone call, we send an email. We’ve got less than 60 seconds to get their attention. So how can we hit the ground running every single time? So even if people are busy, even if they’re skeptical, even if it’s seven o’clock at night and they put in a ten-hour day, how can we get those eyebrows up?

[00:05:01.820] – Sam Horn
So you ready for a 60 second opening that gets those eyebrows up?

[00:05:06.080] – Boris
Let’s do it.

[00:05:06.980] – Sam Horn
OK, now, Boris, you said that you’re a storyteller. So what I do and what I hope everyone else does is that every time we want to make a point, we start with a story. Because if we start with the story, as you know, that’s what people relate to. That’s what they identify with. The eyebrows are up. They’re intrigued. And they Socratically get the message and want to know more. Right. OK, so here’s the story about how to have a 60 second opening that’s helped my clients get millions of dollars and we’ll tell the story.

[00:05:40.310] – Sam Horn
So you may also know that I was pitch coach for Springboard Enterprises. We’ve helped entrepreneurs get 10 billion, B billion, in valuation and funding. So one of my clients came up to me and she said, “Sam, I’ve got good news. I’ve got bad news.” I said, “what’s the good news?” She said, “I’m speaking in front of a room full of investors at the Paley Center in New York.” I said, “That’s fantastic news.” I said, “What’s the bad news?”

[00:06:06.230] – Sam Horn
She said, “I’m going at two thirty in the afternoon and I only have ten minutes.” She said, “You can’t say anything in ten minutes.” I said, “Kathleen, you don’t have ten minutes. You have sixty seconds.” Here’s the opening we came up with that helped her become Business Week’s most promising social entrepreneur of that year.

[00:06:25.550] – Sam Horn
“Did you know there are 1.8 billion vaccinations given every year? Did you know up to a third of those are given with reused needles? Did you know we’re spreading and perpetuating the very diseases we’re trying to prevent? Imagine if there were a painless one use needle for a fraction of the current cost. You don’t have to imagine it. We’re doing it.”

[00:06:50.600] – Sam Horn
And she’s off and running. Are your eyebrows up, Boris?

[00:06:53.550] – Boris
I mean, I’m intrigued.

[00:06:55.280] – Sam Horn
OK, now I hope people have paper and pen because that’s the only thing all of our authors agreed at, at Maui Writer’s Conference. You know, Terry Brock would say “you have to write first thing in the morning,” and and Elizabeth George would get up and say, “I don’t get going until the afternoon.” And Frank McCourt would say, “You have to work with an outline.” And Dave Barry would say, “I never work with an outline.” Here’s what they agreed on:

[00:07:18.110] – Sam Horn
“Ink it when you think it.” So grab a piece of paper, think about your nonprofit and think about your meeting with a potential sponsor or donor.

[00:07:26.630] – Sam Horn
You’re meeting with your volunteers. You’re asking people to come to an event coming up. Here are three steps that can help get their attention, whether it’s on the page or on the stage or online. OK, ready? What are three “Did you know?” questions you can ask about the problem you’re solving, about the issue you’re addressing, about the need you’re meeting.

[00:07:50.510] – Sam Horn
So it’s, “did you know this and this and this?” And now what we’re looking for are startling statistics about how bad it is about how money is, how much money is being spent, about how many people are being affected, about the trend is being worse because our goal is: “did you know this? I didn’t know that.” “And did you know this? It’s that bad?” “And did you know this is getting worse?” Do you see how in the first 20 seconds we’ve already turned a monologue into a dialog by asking questions that surprise and startle people, get the eyebrows up now they’re engaged, right?

[00:08:29.600] – Boris

[00:08:30.440] – Sam Horn
OK, now, by the way, if you’re thinking, Sam, where do I find those startling statistics? You “GTS” that stuff. I know we have nonprofits in every kind of industry and on every kind of issue. I guarantee you, if you put into search what are startling statistics about blank, about kids with disabilities, about, you know, about poverty, about homelessness, about your food, needs and things like that, you’re going to come up with things you didn’t know.

[00:09:03.380] – Sam Horn
And if you don’t know it, chances are you’re decision makers don’t know it. Now they’re smarter than they were. You just earned their attention. So that’s the first step. Three. Did you know questions? Ready for the next step?

[00:09:14.720] – Boris

[00:09:15.590] – Sam Horn
OK, one word. Imagine, imagine, pull people out of their preoccupation. It’s it helps them picture your point, see what you’re saying. So they’re not preoccupied. They’re actually picturing in their mind what you’re saying. Now link “imagine” to three benefits of your nonprofit, three advantages of supporting your cause. Three good things that will happen if you go ahead and attend this event or support the nonprofit. And let’s go back to kathleen Calendar. She was president and founder of something called Pharma Jet.

[00:09:56.390] – Sam Horn
Now, before we work together, guess how she used to introduce yourself? By explaining that pharma jet was a medical delivery device for subcutaneous inoculations. What? Look at those eyebrows, Boris. She would have lost them at hello. Right? But now she’s thinking about her decision makers. What are they thinking while they’re thinking about those reused needles? So we made it one use. They’re thinking about those painful inoculations. So we made it painless. Most decision makers, even for a nonprofit, are thinking about money.

[00:10:34.310] – Sam Horn
How am I going to know my money is being well spent? How will the results that you’re getting for my money? It’s so we made it a fraction of the current cost. Do you see how in a world infobesity, we distilled into one succinct sentence? Who wouldn’t want that? That’s your goal. Imagine this and this and this. And people are thinking, sounds pretty good. Ready for third step?

[00:11:00.770] – Boris
Definitely. I’m taking notes.

[00:11:03.530] – Sam Horn
You don’t have to imagine it. We’re doing it here, in fact, in this article, in fact, here’s this respected thought leader who’s on our board. It’s like, in fact, you know, here is a podcast interview or media interview that, that showcases some of our heroes of some of our success stories. Right. So here’s the thing. You can do all that in 60 seconds.

[00:11:27.920] – Sam Horn
And if you do that in 60 seconds, you just gave yourself a competitive edge because everyone else is still explaining what their nonprofit is, which is infobesity.

[00:11:39.110] – Sam Horn
You turn a monologue into a dialog, you’ve gotten their eyebrows up. They’re intrigued and curious. And now they know something they didn’t know before about the importance of your cause, about the number of people being affected by it, about, you know, that it’s getting worse and yet you’re reversing it. You did it all in 60 seconds.

[00:11:59.090] – Sam Horn
By the way, one last thing at the end there, come in with evidence and precedence. So when you say you don’t have to imagine it, we’re doing it. Come in with something that’s objective and factual to prove that this isn’t speculative or you’re just not making some claim. Here is the objective evidence that they can trust to show that you’re doing what you’re saying. You’re delivering on your promises so they can trust you and take it to the bank.

[00:12:29.530] – Boris
That’s awesome. So there’s a lot to unpack there and I want to explore some of it. There are a few copywriting or storytelling formulas because good copywriting should be always good storytelling that I teach and that this just goes hand in hand with, if you will. So the first is, of course, the three act structure of the beginning, middle and end. You’ve got a beginning, which I often compare to, since I spent a lot of time in Hollywood, to that trailer voice of “in a world where this is going on…”

[00:13:03.070] – Boris
Right? And those are the surprising statistics that that you’re talking about. “One man has to…” and that’s the solution. So there’s there’s another that’s the way you put it, of basically a problem then potential result, like the vision, and then the solution, the way we’re going to get there. So there’s current world hopeful world and now let’s build the ark to get from the beginning to the end. So you’ve got all three acts, but you’re doing it in a way that’s constantly teasing people to to think and getting their imaginations open, hopefully even getting some emotional connection, because in studies that I’ve read and the work that I’ve been trying to do, you know, emotion is what really triggers someone to respond and to take action.

[00:13:49.540] – Boris
So I think that’s a beautiful formula that can can really just simplify things for a lot of people.

[00:13:56.140] – Sam Horn
Here’s the good news. It’s a framework, right? It’s both of us believe that that frameworks, templates are just suggestions. And then we customize and tailor it. And Boris the good news: We can do this in integrity. This is not some cheesy tactic, some manipulating of language. All we’re doing is we’re understanding that people have heard it before. And we have 60 seconds once again to genuinely introduce something that they don’t know that now they’re interested in. So they want to continue to listen.

[00:14:29.500] – Sam Horn
Now, you just brought up emotion. So that’s one option. And by the way, this is a buffet of ideas. It’s not you have to do this. You have to do this. It’s not, you know, in a way. It’s not a formula. It is a framework.

[00:14:42.190] – Sam Horn
If you want another option of how to start something off, shall we talk about that?

[00:14:47.110] – Boris
Let’s do it.

[00:14:48.100] – Sam Horn
OK, we’re going to talk about something called the empathy telescope, because stories are a shortcut to compassion and examples are a shortcut to empathy. So here’s a quick example, right? If we show, we don’t tell. So Shankar Vedantam, who is host of Hidden Brain on NPR, wrote an article in The Washington Post years ago, and he wrote about an oil tanker that had caught fire eight hundred miles off the coast of Hawaii. Now, a cruise ship happened to be going by and they were able to rescue the 11 people on board.

[00:15:24.190] – Sam Horn
And the captain gave a press conference and he talked about how grateful he and his crew were to be rescued. All he can think about is his dog that got left behind, abandoned on the tanker. Well, that press conference went viral and donations started pouring in from around the world. Five dollars, five hundred dollars, five thousand dollars. The US Navy changed the exercise area of the Pacific Fleet just to search for that tanker. They found it.

[00:15:53.920] – Sam Horn
They sent a C-130 to fly low, see if there’s any signs of life. There’s a brown and white blur racing up and down the deck of the tanker. Boris, they mount a quarter of a million dollar rescue mission to get this dog, and they were able to safely bring him back to Hawaii. Now, people may be thinking, what does that have to do with running a nonprofit? What’s the point? Here’s the point: Why did people from around the world mobilize to save one dog when there are thousands of people in their own cities and states and countries going without food, water and shelter?

[00:16:37.630] – Sam Horn
It is because of something called the empathy telescope. And the empathy telescope says we can put ourselves in the shoes of one person. We cannot put ourselves in the shoes of millions. We can put ourselves in the shoes of an individual. We cannot put ourselves in the shoes of an idea of an organization or a cause, which is why when we try to explain how our cause works, why it’s important when we start talking about why, how we’re 501C and our mission is to do that, it goes in one ear and out the other.

[00:17:21.220] – Sam Horn
It’s why we give examples, not explanations. So the question, of course, is, you know, who are your heroes? Who are your dogs on a tanker? Who is the individual? And just as you said, Boris show the hero journey ark, right?

[00:17:38.630] – Sam Horn
Show, “as I’ll always remember when Jimmy came into our first event and he hung in the corner and he felt like he didn’t belong. And one of our hosts went over. I’ll always remember when…” So, start at the beginning. And then guess what? You’re you’re an author. You’re a screenwriter. You’re going to love this one. Guess what we do next?

[00:18:01.030] – Boris
What do we do?

[00:18:01.780] – Sam Horn
We follow Elmore Leonard’s advice, Elmore Leonard, great author, one of our favorite keynoters… someone in the audience said, Mr. Leonard, why do people love your book so much? Guess what he said. I try to leave out the parts people skip. Oh! Guess what, Boris? Skip over the middle. That’s where stories get bogged down, right? So we start when they came to us and then we fast forward. And would you like to know the transition that helps us skip the middle, the bogs down the story?

[00:18:35.360] – Boris

[00:18:36.350] – Sam Horn
“Three months later.” And and in our second activity is the next time they came to one of our events. So, see, we skip over the actual weeds of actually how that happened. And we go to the happy ending. It’s that now he doesn’t miss an activity. Now, this donor has decided to stay with us for ten years because we’re the only one that sends him a quarterly report where they’re the only one who says, you know what?

[00:19:06.740] – Sam Horn
We donate money to other non-profits. And the only time we hear from them is when we get the letter asking us to give us more money. We don’t hear like the results. We don’t hear voluntary good news of how they are benefiting people, how they’re getting results in the real world. So start at the beginning with an individual, not with many people and not with a demographic, an individual. Skip over the middle and then the happy ending, the benefit, the result. All done with dialog. I’ve been doing all the talking… ball’s in your court, Boris.

[00:19:41.570] – Boris
No, this is amazing. So there’s the fact that we can really only identify with one person which which you brought up a very acutely and appropriately there. We can’t identify with a million people. There’s also in that particular story of the dog, there’s the idea that I can’t save all dogs. I can’t. I wish I could. I love dogs, but I can’t. However, I can save one dog. So this one dog stuck and we could all—even as you were telling me the story, I was getting emotional.

[00:20:15.950] – Boris
You know, we could all feel for that dog owner, especially if we’re for dog owners ourselves. We could all feel for him. And we feel like if I donate, maybe I can make a tangible difference, some result that I can see based on the effort that I put in, which might just be, to donate. It might be to donate and share. It might be to invite people specifically, to come and hear about this story and make it go viral.

[00:20:42.110] – Boris
So there’s a lot, in that story itself.

[00:20:46.730] – Sam Horn
You know, Boris, it’s like, do you know what the title of that article was in The Washington Post? Genocide and Infamy. Because the point was, just as you said, Boris, when we hear about something that is massive, when we hear about something that is on the other side of the world, it feels distant and it feels overwhelming and we retreat and we withdraw. And that is why focusing on one individual, as you said, we feel that we can we feel like we can help instead of feeling helpless.

[00:21:22.670] – Sam Horn
In fact, there’s another great little story about this. Years ago, I was in charge—I started the National Speakers Association chapter in Hawaii. And so we had Sylvia Chase, who was in town on vacation. And so she spoke to our chapter, Sylvia Chase, worked for CBS News and one of the early versions of 20/20. And I’ll always remember she had a show that she wanted to do and her producers would not approve it. So she jumped the chain of command and she went in to Uncle Walter, Walter Cronkite, because she knew if she pitched your idea to Walter and he said yes, that it would be a yes.

[00:21:58.940] – Sam Horn
So she went in and she pitched your story and he looked at her and he said, let’s see. He said eight words, guess what he said, Boris?

[00:22:10.130] – Boris
I couldn’t.

[00:22:11.300] – Sam Horn
“Sylvia, your cat is not in my tree”, and she was “What?” He said. “Think about it.” Your cat is not in my tree. In other words, well, Boris, I’ve been talking long enough Boris. What does that mean to you?

[00:22:30.500] – Boris
It means that I don’t know how I can step in and help. It’s not on my property, so it’s not my problem, but it’s also removed from me. So I can’t get in there and do anything about it feels like not my problem, essentially.

[00:22:47.220] – Sam Horn
See, Boris, you just got it. Every nonprofit leader right now, it’s like if we’re not on someone’s property, they don’t care. And it’s not that they’re not compassionate people. It’s just they’ve got a lot on their plate. And recency equals relevancy and so is nearness. When something is happening in our backyard, we are much more likely to care about it than if something is literally and figurative far away, distant. It’s not just geographical, it’s metaphorical and it’s psychological, right?

[00:23:21.170] – Sam Horn
So part of our goal and role as a nonprofit leader is how when we’re talking with someone, we can use a real-life example. Once again, not some made up story, a real-life example of something that is happening in their neighborhood, in their city, in their backyard, on their emotional property. So they feel not only that they can help, that it’s possible they feel almost a responsibility or an obligation to step up and do something instead of just look the other way.

[00:23:56.600] – Boris
So we naturally can understand and relate to, sympathize and empathize with things that are going on near us in our immediate vicinity. If something’s happening in my city and there’s a danger, of course, I’m going to be more attuned to that, more responsive to that. But I will say, I think in this day and age, with with digital technology and social media and all kinds of media interconnecting us, there are different kinds of neighborhoods now. It doesn’t have to be a physical neighborhood or city.

[00:24:24.020] – Boris
It could be a neighborhood, a community that I feel I’m a part of. For example, it’s pride month right now. Right? I feel like pride is critical to our society at this point in our history. And I’m going to stand up and take action. If I see something happening to that community or for that community,

[00:24:45.050] – Sam Horn
I tell you, good for you, Boris. In fact, we had talked about how many nonprofits because of covid have shifted to being on Zoom and being virtual.

[00:24:54.710] – Sam Horn
So how can we create a community online? Right, when we have people around the world, around the country, around the state, how can we make them feel or create an environment where they feel they belong, they’re part of the process instead of apart from the process? So let’s talk about how we can do that. Virtually want to?

[00:25:12.500] – Boris

[00:25:13.560] – Sam Horn
OK, number one is that is is to send a letter and email before a Zoom meeting, before any event. And one of the first things is: “We know you’re busy. That’s why you can trust us to start on time and to end on time.” And from now on, understand, Richard Branson said “time is the new money” and I think time is the new trust. If we want our participants to trust us, we always start on time because what is the message sent?

[00:25:48.350] – Sam Horn
If we say we’re going to start at nine o’clock and people are there at nine o’clock and we say, well, we have a few late comers, so we’re going to wait for a few minutes. Who are we rewarding? Who are we penalizing? No, we say you can trust us to always be a good use of your time.

[00:26:06.080] – Sam Horn
Now, the second thing always take less time than they anticipated. People are accustomed to like an hour meeting. You say in that email, we know how busy you are. We know that our board meetings are normally at seven o’clock and you’ve already put in a twelve-hour day. So we have reduced our board meetings to thirty minutes.

[00:26:26.600] – Sam Horn
You know, and people are going, “OK, they’re acknowledging the fact that I’ve got a lot on my plate and I’m a lot more likely to be on that board meeting and participate in that board meeting because it’s a half an hour instead of an hour.” So keep it brief so they don’t give you grief.

[00:26:44.480] – Sam Horn
Now, number three, say you have a thirty minute board meeting. Guess what you can say there’s ten people on the call, Zoom. Guess what you do for the first ten minutes? You go around and you give every single person a voice because otherwise they’re not a part of the conversation. They’re apart from the conversation. They’re passive, they’re not participants. So by giving people a voice in an identity, you are creating a community where we feel connected.

[00:27:16.190] – Sam Horn
So “it’s please tell us, each of you have 60 seconds—and by the way, when we say 60 seconds, we mean sixty seconds—to give us an update, something going on in your world. So that you are connecting your board, not just on a report of what we’ve done since last month. We’re saying, you matter. We want, “Oh, I didn’t know you’re part of that club.” “Hey, congratulations on finishing that 10K.” “Hey, I saw that you got that award.”

[00:27:41.850] – Sam Horn
So that people once again feel connected instead of just sitting and listening to something that’s not even personalized or customized for them and then guess what we do after everyone has a voice (sixty seconds)? We share one of our hero stories. We don’t go right into our budget report and what we spent. What would we say? Here’s a two minute story of of something actually that happened that was a win for the organization that can help you feel proud to be on the board of this ship.

[00:28:14.100] – Sam Horn
So we go right into one of our “Dog on a tanker” stories. So and then then we go into the report, etc. And at the end, you know what we always do? We set up a pipeline because we warm up a cold communication. Do you know how most people start a zoom meeting? You ready? “Put yourself on mute!”

[00:28:39.980] – Sam Horn
Boris, when we have, we have a party at our house and walk in and the first thing he said people is “Put a sock in it”, be quiet, stay silent. No, the first words are welcome. “Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule.” “It’s good to see you again.” “Congratulations.”

[00:29:00.710] – Sam Horn
Warm up the opening so that people are glad to be there. Robert Frost said “no joy in the writer, no joy in the reader.” No joy in the host, no joy in the listeners. And then at the end always set up a pipeline with the words looking forward. We’re looking forward to seeing you next month. We’re looking forward to sharing a report about how that event went. We’re looking forward to sharing next month’s hero story so that we warm up communication. We create a community where people feel involved and engaged instead of just passive spectators who are not participating. They’re not a part of the process. They’re part from the process. What are your thoughts about that, Boris?

[00:29:46.550] – Boris
Well, so I don’t deal very much in board meetings, but that structure absolutely makes sense. And when it comes to building communities online or in person, however they are, whether they’re through social media or through Zoom calls or through in-person meetings, absolutely. What’s key is helping people feel or empowering people to feel like they are a contributor to the community, like they’re part of the narrative. They’re not just listening, but they’re an active participant. That they can share their insights there and make them feel like a human being is absolutely critical.

[00:30:20.640] – Boris
So I love all of that. Speaking of being respectful of time, we just reached the half hour mark and I really want to be respectful of yours. If you have a few more minutes, I’d love to nudge you slightly further in one direction, which is that’s how you engage people and make them feel part of the community. There’s a big content strategy called user generated content where you really solicit insights from your audience, from your community, and then you share it out with everybody, making them feel even more heard, making them feel like they’re actually influencing the direction of the organization, which is fantastic.

[00:30:58.910] – Boris
But what nonprofits are having a hard time with. Not “but”… another thing that nonprofits are having a hard time with is getting people to tune in in the first place. Right? So we’re competing now sometimes on a national scale, which is great, because all of a sudden, Brooklyn organizations that I’ve been talking to have participants in Texas. Great! But they don’t know how to get that attention in the first place, how to compete with the Amazon ad or the retargeting ad that that they just someone just visit a website or the next funny video in the TikTok feed or Facebook feed or whatever it is.

[00:31:35.950] – Boris
So some people call it, how do we stop the scroll? Others are just simply asking how do we rise above the noise? And of course, I have my theories, but Sam, I really want to hear yours.

[00:31:46.130] – Sam Horn
Well, great question. Boris is I believe in something called 60-second stories we’ve already talked about. We don’t have ten minutes or we have sixty seconds. So here’s one of my favorite examples, is that I believe we turn an elevator speech into an elevator story. And so here is a story. My son Andrew Horn started Dreams for Kids, DC. And when people used to say, so what do you do? He said, I run a nonprofit. End of the conversation.

[00:32:15.440] – Sam Horn
Boris. We don’t want to end the conversation. We want to open the conversation. So from now on, don’t tell people what you do, because if they get it, they’ll go, oh, end of the conversation. If they don’t get it, they’ll go, huh? And now they’re confused. Uh-oh, we lost them at hello. Instead, do what Andrew started to do. He would jump right into the Jerry story.

[00:32:37.040] – Sam Horn
He would talk about how Jerry had cerebral palsy, that the first time he came to an event, his mother was very concerned about him. He’d become very withdrawn and introverted, bordering on depression. And so Dreams for Kids, DC, had a policy where they would assign someone to every single kid who showed up at one of their activities, whether it was with the Nationals, whether it was with at the White House or whatever. And and so the first time that Jerry was there, Betty, was his host. Well, Betty made him feel welcome. Betty cheered him on whatever.

[00:33:14.270] – Sam Horn
And a couple months later, they had an event out at Great Falls. And it was actually kind of like a mud race. Now Jerry is on crutches and doing the mud race at Great Falls was quite a challenge. So now all the kids had finished and Jerry was nowhere to be found. So Andrew ran back on the trail to find out where Jerry was. Well, here was Jerry and his host struggling up the trail and he was very determined he was going to finish it. Well now, you cannot make this stuff up, Boris…

[00:33:48.140] – Sam Horn
Andrew runs back, gets volunteers to line the trail so that they can cheer him on and let him know it’s just a couple of hundred yards ahead. While, the while the volunteers along the trail are cheering Jerry on, a van from I think it was Channel 9 shows up and Leon Harris, one of the great broadcasters in Washington, D.C., tumbled out of the van. The camera crew came out.

[00:34:13.130] – Sam Horn
They saw all the commotion and they started filming Jerry come over the crest of the hill, “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry.” And they caught as he finished the finished, that race in Great Falls with everyone cheering him on. And Leon goes over and he sticks the mic under his face. “Jerry, how’s it feel?” And Jerry says, “I’m a winner. I’m a winner.” Andrew doesn’t talk about being a 501c and all their different activities and that, no, he tells Jerry’s story.

[00:34:53.520] – Sam Horn
And so I’m asking every every nonprofit leader who’s listening to this, do you have your Jerry stories in 60-second videos on your website? Do you have your Jerry stories on your face, on your Facebook feed, on your YouTube channel? Because in the bottom, on the bottom line, it comes down to are we sharing true, real life examples that show what we do in a way people can identify with it in a way they want to support it, in a way they want to recommend it in a way they want to get involved with it?

[00:35:28.920] – Sam Horn
If so, that’s how we stand out in a noisy world.

[00:35:33.500] – Boris
Very cool, great story, by the way. Takes you right there. Yeah, so Sam, tons of value here. Thank you so much for sharing all of that with us. We’re going to have it all in the show notes. We’ll have the transcript of this. We’re going to have all of it for all of our viewers and listeners to consume in any way that they prefer to really on their time. I ask everyone if there are any tools or resources that based on your expertise and insights you would like to share or you would like people to check out once they’re done consuming this content?

[00:36:12.980] – Sam Horn
Well, thank you, Boris out there of the books that I’ve written. There are three that are particularly useful for nonprofit leaders is one is called “Tongue Fu!” And it’s how to deal with difficult people without becoming one ourselves. It’s been sold around the world now for more than twenty five years. And and this can help us deal with someone who’s upset or unhappy if can help us deal with a sensitive or stressful situation. So “Tongue Fu!” Will be helpful.

[00:36:39.680] – Sam Horn
Also, I wrote a book called “POP!” and Seth Godin said “a third of the way through this book, you’re going to be begging to hire Sam as your consultant.” So Pop helps you come up with one of a kind names and positioning and messaging that can help whether it’s your content online or whether it is a pitch to a donor or a funder, it can help capture people’s attention.

[00:37:01.550] – Sam Horn
And then “Got Your Attention” is based on this whole idea that people are busy and distracted, and how can we hit the ground running and how we can we communicate in a way that really is intriguing. People haven’t heard it before and we get what we care about in their mental door.

[00:37:18.060] – Boris
Awesome. We’re going to have links to all of these in the show notes, if viewers do want to or listeners do want to follow up with you directly or what’s the next step in their journey that they should take?

[00:37:31.130] – Sam Horn
They can go to my work. Well, two things go to the website, which is So it’s intrigue. I n t r i g u e, IntrigueAgency. And if they go to the section called “POP”, we actually have workshops where we work with organizations. And we help with, what are your goals for this year? What do you want to have happen? Now how can you help make that happen by making all of your communications intriguing and strategic and smart and purposeful so that they develop that.

[00:38:03.780] – Sam Horn
And also is that if you go there or the second way is just get in touch with this personally. Just reach out to Cheri, She’s my business manager. She can answer your questions or we could do a webinar for your organization, speak at your annual conference. I’d love to continue the conversation.

[00:38:26.310] – Boris
Thanks so much, Sam. And we’ll have links to to all of those as well in the show notes. I really appreciate your time today. The perspective that you put on things, the way that you frame them, I think is going to be helpful to a lot of organizations. And you’re basically doing my job for me, convincing them that they need to tell stories, they need to tell good stories and do it in a way that’s going to really connect with audiences and get them to take the actions that we want them to take to make a better world.

[00:38:52.800] – Boris
So thank you so much for your time today.

[00:38:55.170] – Sam Horn
You’re welcome. Hope people have found it intriguing, inspiring and useful.

[00:39:00.000] – Boris
And thank you, everybody, for tuning in. We’re excited to have guests like Sam on every week. We’re back now full time and we hope you’ll keep tuning in. If you like us, please go ahead and subscribe. Rate us, help us get the word out so that more people could discover guests like Sam and all of the great other guests that we have on here that help nonprofits reach their audiences and create a better world for all of us.

[00:39:23.040] – Boris
Thank you, everybody. Take care.

[00:39:46.800] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • 05:10 — Every time we want to make a point we should start with a story, because that’s what people relate to.
  • 07:26 — Three steps to get attention, whether it’s on the page, on the stage or online.
  • 11:39 — Turning your monologues into a dialog to get listeners intrigued and curious.
  • 14:48 — Empathy Telescopes: People can’t relate to a large group, corporation or demographic. Zoom in on one person/example with which people can empathize. What’s your “dog on a tanker” story?
  • 22:47 — Proximity and recency equal relevancy, so keep your stories near-and-dear to the audience.
  • 29:00 — Warm up your opening so that people are glad to be there. Create a community where people feel involved and engaged.
  • 32:15 — Telling people what you do ends the conversation. Jump right into the story to start a conversation instead.

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Sam Horn

Sam Horn

CEO of Intrigue Agency

Sam Horn is the CEO of the Intrigue Agency. Her 3 TEDX talks and 9 books – including POP! and Tongue Fu! have been presented to Intel, Cisco, Fidelity, Nationwide, Boeing and Capital One.

Connect with Sam Horn