Earlier this month, Group Creative Director Jenny Nicholson spoke at the inaugural Story Movements conference about SPENT, the website she created for Urban Ministries of Durham. Just last week, Names for Change, another website she created for UMD, was named one of the best nonprofit websites of 2016.

SPENT and Names for Change were created five and two years ago, respectively. In an industry where people work on a project for a few months, send it out into the world, and move on to something else the next day, SPENT and Names for Change have passed the test of time. So what is it that keeps people interested? We spoke to Jenny to find out.

“It’s storytelling. It’s 100% storytelling,” she said.

SPENT, an online game that mimics the day-to-day experience of living on the poverty line, presents people with a new challenge each day as they attempt to get through a month. Names For Change, a fundraising site for UMD, allows people to donate a bus ticket, a bag of coffee or baby diapers in the same way universities offer naming rights to stadiums. Each item has its own story about how people living in poverty need it.

Using specific details like “Your co-worker is sick, so everyone is pitching in $20. Do you pitch in or say you forgot your wallet?” or “When you’re living on the edge, sometimes even a box of maxi pads costs more than you can afford,” put people in the shoes of someone living in poverty. 

Names for Change

“It’s so much more powerful than statistics and percentages,” Jenny said. “Ultimately, it’s those small moments that drive donations.”

“We focused on the bigger experience, not just the brand, so people keep coming back. It speaks to them on a higher level,” Jenny said. “Plus,” she added, “they’re fun, engaging and well designed.”

“When you’re creating something, you have to ask yourself — really, genuinely ask yourself — ‘Would I do this? If I wasn’t being paid to come up with and sell this idea, is it something I could care about?’”

If you do enough research and make the stories relatable enough, you can answer yes to that question. For that reason, SPENT and Names for Change have been the gifts that keep giving for Urban Ministries of Durham.

“SPENT is the most long-lasting thing that I’ve done,” Jenny said. “It’s a beautiful thing that’s immaculately constructed, and it actually changes young people’s minds about people in poverty.” 

“It’s a kind of permanence that we never get in this business. That’s why I love it so much.”

Names for Change is only two years old, but we hope it achieves the kind of permanence SPENT has. Want to see how we made a can of corn about helping people? Click here to browse Names for Change. Want to try living in poverty for a month? Click here to play SPENT.