At school, the theme for my eight year-old girl’s class last term was rainforests. It culminated with a couple of fundraising activities to adopt a pair of orangutans – two young buddies called Rocky and Rickina.
So taken by the photos of the orangutans and their stories of despair – motherless and their habitat being decimated because of the palm oil industry – my girl came home with this: “I wish I could help more orangutans. I feel sad for all the others on the website.”
Seizing the opportunity to reward her desire to help another creature or two, inspire entrepreneurialism, and give her the chance to experience the power and satisfaction of executing an idea and achieving a goal, I suggested she do something to raise enough money to adopt another orangutan.
In bed that night, instead of reading a book, we tossed around ideas about doing jobs around the house to earn money (boring, and it’d take too long), a read-a-thon (dumb idea, and it’d take too long) and eventually settled on a cupcake stall.
We planned the date, time, and stall goodies – cupcakes with hundreds-and-thousands on top, and smiley face biscuits with lolly snake mouths and orange icing designed to match an orangutan’s long coat. I’d make the cakes, she’d decorate them, and we’d make a sign to put out on the road and attract drivers-by.
The stall was 10 days away. I suggested she might like to ask some of our friends for donations before then. Initially shy, with a bit of prompting she did.
The first time she told it, her story went like this:
“Well, at school we learnt about rainforests and we adopted two orangutans and I’m raising some money so I can adopt another orangutan.”
She’s eight and rather charming (everyone else says that), and that sentence was enough for our friends to say ‘yes.’
And, as I told her, something was missing that she might need when it comes to asking strangers to buy from her stall. It was her ‘why?’
I asked my girl why she wanted to help the orangutans. Why did she care? Why did it matter?
I suggested she’d need to offer that sort of information to people who might happen upon her cake stall.
Here’s what she came up with: “Well, the orangutans’ habitat is being destroyed and some of them are dying and some of the young ones don’t have a mother any more and they need people to look after them and I want to help them.“
Oh yes. That’s it.
Once our sign saying ‘Cupcakes for Sale’ (actually, it said ‘Cupcake’ because I ran out of room to paint the s but figured it’d do the trick anyway) was held in the air and enthusiastically waved around by my husband to get drivers’ attention, and our girl stood at the edge of the road next to him, holding out a cupcake in one hand and a smiley face biscuit in the other, the action started.
Most drivers smiled at us, even if they didn’t stop. Some, stony-faced, ignored us (not an easy feat given the way we jumped up and down to get their attention), and then there were the dear souls who “couldn’t not stop”, they said.
And when they asked about the purpose of the stall, my girl shared her why and customers praised her for a job well done, and some paid an exorbitant amount for a few vanilla cupcakes with orange icing melting in the sun.
The cupcakes sold out. My darling raised $88. Then Bunga, a seven year-old female orangutan, was adopted. Her certificate of adoption promptly arrived in my inbox soon after.
There are a few morals to the story, and just one I want to share with you, as a leader who must inspire and influence your teams, clients, customers and perhaps the public too:
Stories change everything
Our brains are wired to remember stories. They’re up to 22 times more memorable than facts or figures alone.
They shape how others see you, they ensure people hear your insights more effectively, and they persuade, and move people to action.
When you include your ‘why’ in your stories, their impact – your impact – is even greater.
I’m willing to bet that, as charismatic as she is, my girl’s ‘why’ accounted for the $10 and $20 donations for a couple of packet cupcakes (I admit it!) and smiley face biscuits with lumpy icing.
Putting herself in the story is what moved her customers to action, and to praise her for her efforts.
Who do you need to move to action this week? What story will you tell?