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Charity Best Begins With A Good Story

Early in this season of giving, I read an article entitled, “Altruism Rarely Sole Motivation For Giving.”  You can find it at http://ireader.olivesoftware.com/Olive/iReader/TCD/SharedArticle.ashx?document=TCD\2012\12\01&article=Ar00105.

In it, experts were analyzing what triggered the “giving” impulse in people and determined that altruism was not a main driver.  People wanted to feel good about themselves, and making a charitable contribution resulted in a feeling of “I’m a good person doing something good.”

Naturally, there were some caveats.  Primary among them was that people wanted to donate money where they felt it would do the most good…but, their choices didn’t always reflect that preference.  In fact, emotion was often the determining factor.  (For that reason, individuals should be favored over statistics, and the face of a crying child should be favored over one of a smiling child.  …More on that latter suggestion shortly.)

As I read this, I couldn’t help but think that storytelling would be one of the most effective tools of all.  An effective story is a pipeline directly into the emotions.

The charity-based stories that move me the most are the ones that walk me through a scenario, inviting me to live it with the storyteller.  Tell me what moved you to become a part of this charity.  What have you seen that has made it all worthwhile?  As the storyteller relives the triumph, I am invited to live it, too.  If I decide to participate, I will also be making a difference.

I don’t know how I feel about using the sad face of a child.  Frankly, that can be overused to the point that the viewer thinks, “I can’t help ALL of them.”  It also can give the feeling of being manipulated.

If you tell me the story of that child, I am much more likely to want to become involved.  And, I must disagree with the experts on this one…show me a happy child along with the story of why this child is happy, and I feel that I have tangible proof that this charity bears positive results.

For instance, if I go to the homepage of one of most highly-respected children’s charities, the Ronald McDonald House (http://rmhc.org/), I am not greeted by sad, unhappy children.  The children pictured look like they are making progress…or, dare I say it…are even happy.  We know they are in an unhappy situation, so this charity must be doing something right.

If you want an example of effective storytelling, don’t skip the Intro at the website.  Listen as a mother tells about what life would have been like if the Ronald McDonald House hadn’t been there at a time of critical need.  Pressing the DONATE button is almost a relief!

Possibly the best example (especially at this time of the year) is the masterful novella, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.  Early in the tale, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by gentlemen who are endeavoring to raise funds “for the poor and destitute.”  They are astounded when they ask the amount Mr. Scrooge plans to contribute.

“Nothing.”

“You wish to remain anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone.”

Scrooge, of course, is portrayed as a miser.  Yet, how many of us have felt the same way when besieged to contribute to one cause after another?  Did you feel like a miser because you didn’t give in to the requests?

It is interesting that when the story is brought home to Ebenezer Scrooge by the three spirits…when the faceless “poor and destitute” are replaced by Bob Cratchit’s son, Tiny Tim…Scrooge’s hard veneer begins to crack.  This little boy isn’t a slacker who refuses to work.  Allowing the child to die for want of assistance that he could provide is too cruel.  He is moved by the story. 

I had a university call me this past week for a donation.  They explained their need, assured me that they appreciated my past support, and then asked if it would be all right to fix my contribution amount at $750.00!  Each “No” in response brought the return of a lower suggested amount, eventually stopping at $25.00 when it was obvious that I was not being favorably moved.  I did not contribute anything.

What would have favorably moved me?  Perhaps telling me the story of some successful graduates who have made outstanding contributions to the community or to their professions…and who would have been unable to do so if scholarship funds had not been available to them at a critical time of need in their education.

I’ll admit that this is a more difficult “sell” when being homeless is life-threatening due to extreme temperatures, people are going without heating or meals, or stray animals are freezing in cardboard boxes.  However, if they had a story of a graduate that was making a difference in those areas, that tug on my purse-strings would have been more keenly felt.

Winter is an ideal time for gathering around a tree, lit candles or a fireplace and telling stories.  That feeling transfers to the workplace, too.  Reflect on what is good about being alive and the difference you can make.

Thank you for reading.