Bill Haber was one of the most powerful talent agents in the world. Then, one day he quit the powerhouse Creative Artist Agency which he had co-founded to become a leader of the nonprofit organization Save the Children.
Bill’s entire career had been about telling stories through movies and television. He would need a brand new story in his new role as an agent of global change.
“Save the Children has forty-one different branches internationally,” he said. “Except for UNICEF, it’s the largest nongovernmental, nonsectarian organization for children in the world. We service thirty-five million desperate children.”
The problem he faced was the scale of the organization and the scope of need it served. As human beings, we instinctively turn off when numbers get too big and impersonal.
“Telling people you need to pay for four thousand employees, five million meals, and six thousand pencils doesn’t move them,” writes Peter Guber in Tell to Win, his excellent book on the power of storytelling.
This week we are looking at the role the hero plays in all powerful stories.
As storytellers, we must select the proper hero for the story to work. Yesterday, we looked at how Magic Johnson cast himself as the teller of the story as the hero. Today, we investigate the listener as the hero.
So, how does one create interest from potential donors in thirty-five million children?
By making it about one child.
Because as human beings, we are wired to respond emotionally one-to-one.
“Our story had to be that every single child has a story,” says Bill. “And if you save one child’s life or make one single child’s life whole because of what you do, then you’ve made a difference that matters.
“Through that one life, you can change the world,” Bill said.
As a leader of Save the Children, Bill told this story to donors, to government sponsors, and to Save the Children’s own staff and volunteers: “You could take other jobs and have a regular life, but you choose to do this to save that one child’s life,” Bill told his team.
By sponsoring a child, the listener becomes the hero of the story.
“Sponsorship is where you spend twenty-four dollars, which goes to one child,” says Bill. “Then the child writes you. You get a picture of the child, which puts a face on the major character of a story in which you personally participate. This story proves you are the hero changing the world. That’s really what moves you.
“Then comes the key to the whole thing: You tell this story to your family and friends, and the story you tell of ‘your’ child, the call to action that you answered, and how that action made you feel,” observes Bill: “That story persuades them to become sponsors. And so it goes.”
“Just tell people that they can make a difference in one child’s life,” Bill says. “That’s how you change the world.”
Reflection: Consider a current challenge. Is there a story I can tell where I can cast the listener as the hero to inspire them to take action?
Action: Tell it.