I had just left a Christmas party, an annual gathering for social impact entrepreneurs a few minutes before I was put in this weird situation.
She came out of nowhere, and I was surprised she kept up with me because I was walking quite fast over the icy snow. It was -6 degrees Celsius, a crisp winter night, and I was speeding through downtown Vancouver to catch the train before I turned into an ice cube.
It was almost impossible to understand what this little homeless lady was saying, but she continued to follow me.
It’s not unusual to walk by homeless people on the sidewalk asking for money, it’s a significant problem in Vancouver, and one I’ve thought a lot about recently with the weather becoming colder. I simply can’t fathom the chilling cold eating through my bones all winter long with nowhere to escape. However, without any concrete idea or way to help, I simply haven’t.
She keeps following me and continues talking in what sounds like gibberish. At first I quickly put up my guard, said no, and didn’t even make eye contact. She was in my personal space, was speaking so fast and with an accent that I couldn’t understand her, and her persistence in following me despite my immediate rejection made me feel weird.
I continued to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to help you, what is it that you need?” And it took several tries of her saying a few phrases over and over before I pieced together a clear statement.
She said, “I need some money to find somewhere to stay. I’m a schizophrenic. I have voices in my head. But I’m not from here, and I need some help. I need 18 dollars.”
Curiosity drew my gaze slowly towards her, and I began to dig further into her story. You can imagine my skepticism, as most people have in giving money to the homeless for fear of them spending it on drugs or booze. I continued asking, “what do you need the money for?”
She replied again in a number of quick statements that were barely comprehendible, but at this point we had locked eyes, and I saw the desperation behind this woman’s pale, light blue eyes. Without even blinking once she said, “I’m from Montreal. I need 18 dollars to stay in a hostel until I go home. I don’t know what to do. I don’t do drugs. See…”
As she lifted up her sleeve to her elbow to reveal a skinny, malnourished arm, she emphasized the lack of needle punctures to assure me she hadn’t been doing drugs. Slowly my heart was warming up to her, and I began to feel a shift in my perception of her from homeless druggy, to someone who is desperately lost, physically and mentally.
I asked how she was going to get home, and she said a nice man had got her a bus ticket, but it was in 9 days, and she needs the money to stay in a hostel until she can leave.
My chance to help someone was right in front of me, and for once, it was clear how I could help her. She had told me exactly what she needed and why.
Thinking back I realized not knowing how to help is precisely why more people do not go out of their way to volunteer, donate, or give back to those in need. They simply don’t know, aren’t aware, or don’t see the value from what they can offer.
This is why content marketing is such a powerful game changer for social impact. We can use it to share the story of nonprofits, socially conscious businesses, and passionate individuals that found ways to help and that help others to do the same. We can show people ways to help, the effects of it, and foster a large, connected community with a mission worthy of talking about.
Not everyone gets an opportunity like I did that day. It was an obvious need with someone literally begging for something specific, and I had an immediate ability to do something.
But creating content to share stories, inspire, and teach people how to make an impact is one way we can guide more people to serve others that don’t have this direct opportunity tugging at their sleeve.
The lady’s eyes lit up as I opened my wallet, pulled out a $20 dollar bill and held it out for her. As she slowly took it from my hand I said, “I’m trusting that you will use this wisely to take care of yourself. Now go get warm, and I wish you all the best.”
She gave me a quick, but overly excited hug through her baggy coat and said, “thank you so much, you’re a good man”, and quickly went off down the street.
Yes, I took a big chance that she may or may not spend it on what she said. But I would rather take those odds, with a chance of making a life-changing gift than turn away and save my $20 for a couple of lattes next week.
I hope we all take the chance when we get an opportunity to help…
But because it doesn’t often come along like that, we should improve our content marketing skills, and use our creative brains with writing, designing, whatever it is, to do a better job of sharing the stories of our nonprofits and socially conscious businesses. We can show people how to make a bigger impact and give them the opportunity as well.
If you’d like to learn how to create better content marketing, or if you’re a creative and want to get involved in the Methodic Cause Network to give nonprofits this creative advantage, go to http://methodiccontent.com/register/ to join the community.