Why One Story Is Better Than Many

I had the good fortune to hear the amazing Sam Horn speak at a conference a few years ago. She is an expert at making sure you communicate your message clearly - in a way that raises eyebrows and leaves your audience wanting to know more.

One of the methods she spoke of really struck me and stuck. She calls it her “Dog on a Tanker Story.” Her method is based on insights from a Washington Post article from January 2010, about a fire that broke out on an oil tanker some 800 miles south of Hawaii. A cruise ship eventually came by and rescued the remaining 11 survivors, but as they pulled away, they heard the bark of a dog. The captain’s dog had been left behind.

What happens next is short of incredible.

A cruise ship passenger attempted to get the Hawaiian Humane Society to rescue the dog, but they refused to use taxpayer money. Media reports began to surface, and soon people from all over the world were donating money to the Humane Society to save little Hokget. After $48,000 of donated money and eventually, $250,000 of taxpayer money, the Coast Guard was finally able to rescue Hokget.

Close to $300,000 to save one little dog!

Why on earth – when there are millions of people suffering all over the world - do we not raise the money to help – but for ONE tiny dog, people were so moved?

The theory is that we can relate to one individual’s story far better than a large  group of people or several different people. One unique story is more effective because we can relate to one person. We can get to know them and identify with them in some way. We can’t relate in the same way to a mass group of people. (Watch Sam Horn’s TedTalk for the full story.)

This past summer, the JCC of Greater Washington was looking for a new way to tell the story of their summer camp. Twenty-percent of their campers have special needs and cost twice as much to serve as the typical camper, and yet everyone pays the same price. The JCC fundraises to make up the difference, and video is a key component to help raise that money.

In the past, their videos had focused on many different children and their parents. The JCC always wanted to make sure that the vast array of disabilities the camp serves were included. I immediately thought of Sam Horn’s “Dog on a Tanker” concept. I suggested that even though we wouldn’t cover all of the disabilities being served at camp, that if we focused instead on just one or two kids, it would be a much more impactful and memorable video.

They were hesitant, but in the end, the video was incredibly well-received and helped them raise significantly more money this year at their annual fundraiser. You walk away from the video feeling like you really know the two featured campers, Anderson & Dylan, and that connection makes you want to give.

How does this relate to your business or non-profit? The next time you're thinking about telling your organization’s story and feel the need to include everyone, think about Hokget. And then think of just one or two members, customers or employees that have an amazing story and can represent your organization in a memorable way, and tell their stories instead.

Don’t be afraid to let those one or two people shine. Let them share their story in their own words, and reap the rewards of having your very own “Dog on a Tanker” story.