Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Life You Can Save

As his mobile phone disappeared into his pocket a huge smile crept across Mark's face.  He had to hold himself back from punching the air and whooping with delight.  Just nine months ago, things hadn't looked so rosy.  

His business had grown really well until then - especially with one, blue chip client.  But ten months ago a new marketing director had turned up in that client and within a month had swept in a new agency.

He knew it had been a mistake to rely on just one client for half his business, but how could he have turned them down?  He had struggled over the past nine months - cut his salary to the bone even though Marcia was expecting.  Now little Toby had entered their lives, money was very very tight and the board insisted on redundancies - unless he won this new client he'd been wooing. 

The call was confirming the contract.  Business was back to booming - but a condition from the new client was that he had to personally oversee the account; without him there was no deal.

Whooping aside he noticed people dodging a street fundraiser - one of those earnest young people banging on about saving the world.  This one was representing Oxfam.  Well, representing Oxfam today Mark thought - tomorrow it will be Amnesty or Greenpeace.

Earnest World Saver caught Mark's eye.  Before Mark could escape he was caught, dazzled into inaction.

"Hello sir, how are you today?!" began Earnest.  "I'm good but..." began Mark, looking for an escape route.

"That's great! I hope you can spare me a few moments on this fair day.  I am working for Oxfam to help alleviate poverty and literally save kids lives around the world.  You see, in Africa right now, countless kids are suffering from easily curable diseases.  A million of them will die this year from  diarrhea alone.  For just $35 a month - a little over a dollar a day - you can directly help save lives..."

Earnest clearly believed in what he was saying; he probably passionately believes in human rights and tying himself to nuclear subs as well thought Mark.  But Mark had more on his mind right now.

"Thanks, I'm sorry - I don't have time right now" he said, making a beeline for a pedestrian crossing where a young mother watched, relived at not being Earnest's victim.  Her child, maybe five years old and dressed in a cliche pretty red dress,  looked fascinated by something in the road gutter.

The young mum caught his eye and they both knowingly smiled as he quickly sloped off towards the crossing, willing the lights to change.

Earnest was casting about for his next victim when Mark saw something dart out of the gutter - a rat perhaps.  It shot across the road, daring the traffic and startled Mark.

Then things slowed down - it was like a movie; he saw the red dress move after the rat, and the red mass of a bus coming in from the nearside. Without thinking he was moving - instinct kicked in and he leapt across the front of the mum, dragging the kid backwards and towards the gutter.  The change in direction, the speed - everything was working against him as he saw the terrified face of the child falling into the gutter ahead of him.

He felt the bus - the wind, the noise and he knew it was over.  Marcia and Toby - what about them?  He heard the screeching - the tyres and the mother and felt an arm grab him, pulling him up.  The bus had come to a rest - the shocked faces of passengers staring out.

Young mum embraced Little Red Dress as he realised it was Earnest helping  him up.  Earnest had tears in his eyes.  "Mate, you're a hero."


Our job as fundraisers is to make people care enough about children (or equivalent cause) a long away away, as much as they do for someone close.  Most of us would hope we reacted like Mark did, but he risked everything - not just his clothes, a meal or a new iPhone - everything - to save the life of a stranger.

We fundraisers bring our causes closer to our donors through stories and personalisation, though relationships and demonstrating consequences of not giving.

Facts and stats don't make things closer, stories do.

By the way, I am doing a story telling master class at the FINZ conference May 10-12, book here.

Peter Singer does a similar analogy in his superb book "The Life You Can Save" (hence the title)- I thoroughly recommend it, available on Amazon etc. 

You can make the world a much better place without putting your life and your family welfare at risk by donating to Oxfam here.

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