Focus on Starfish

Once upon a time, a wise man was walking along the shore the morning after a fierce storm. Starfish and shells were washed up on the shore for miles in either direction. As the man looked down the beach, he saw a young man reaching down, picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean.

 "Good morning!” the old man called out. “May I ask what it is that you are doing?" The young man replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean. If I don't throw them in, they'll die." "But, young man, there are miles and miles of beach all covered in starfish… You can't possibly make a difference!"

 At this, the young man picked up another starfish, threw it, and just as it plunked into the ocean, said, "It made a difference for that one.” 

 So why do I tell you this parable? Because when it comes to charity fundraising, it’s crucial to realize that your audience starts out thinking like the old man, and it becomes your job as the advertiser to transform their perspective to that of the young man’s. It might seem obvious when I say it like that but most charities do the opposite. They talk about the scope and magnitude of the problem they’re addressing, in order to help people understand how great the need really is. But this is akin to showing the old man the miles of beach strewn with starfish. Instead of motivating, it’s actually demoralizing. 

 So when Rabbi Leifer had me help his fundraising efforts for Yaldei, his special needs organization in Montreal, Canada, I knew right from the start that we had to focus on the individual starfish and not the miles and miles of beach.

As an entrepreneurial genius, Rabbi Leifer understood why we needed to do this.  I’ll also say that Rabbi Liefer’s faith and willingness to go big and take the advice of experts are a few of the many reasons he went from running Yaldei out of his basement to owning a 43,000 square foot state-of-the-art premises, where he runs one of the most sophisticated special needs operations on the planet.

We convinced parents to let us tell their children's story in Yaldei’s ads. Each advertisement focused on the milestone success of that child and the annual cost to make that happen. We promoted these stories like a political campaign, with posters, newsletters, lawn signs and billboards.

That night, 1550 people showed up and they raised far more money than any ever before. All because we focused on the starfish instead of the beach.

Morty SilberComment