What I Learned from an Elephant

While pregnant with my first child I joked with colleagues that we didn’t know if it was a girl, boy or elephant.

Imagine my surprise when we were given a real, live baby elephant!

Keeper receiving hug from baby elephant

Keeper receiving hug from baby elephant

My colleague, a passionate animal rights activist, fostered Siria on behalf of my new baby.  Siria was rescued by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust; you may have seen the Trust on 60 minutes.

Now, in terms of design, there’s nothing particularly impressive about their website.  The photography is stunning and that is the thing I enjoy the most about the site.  [I would love to get my hands on the site because I know I could make some big improvements.]

What the Trust does really well is tell stories about elephants.

Friends have adopted animals on my behalf before–wolves, whales, etc.  I received a lovely certificate, a picture of my adopted animal and even a stuff animal one time.  After that I didn’t hear anything from the organization or receive an update on my animal.  I expected the same thing when we received the elephant.

The elephant people were different though.

I received an email each month that talked about how MY ELEPHANT and the other elephants were getting on.  They even highlighted my elephant’s name in big capital letters so if I didn’t have time to read the entire email; I could skip to the parts about SIRIA and see how he was doing.  Every email came with a watercolor picture of an elephant that one of the volunteers painted.

At first I didn’t pay much attention to these emails.  I kept waiting for them to stop actually.

But then I began anticipating them.  I couldn’t wait to hear about how my little SIRIA was protecting the newer baby elephant or how he played in the mud.

Sometimes I got an email from the Trust with a story of a rescue effort worthy of a hollywood blockbuster.  People were rushing by plane and truck across the African terrain to rescue a little baby elephant who had fallen into a well after witnessing their Mom’s gruesome murder.  But thanks to the Trust the little baby elephant was saved and given a second chance at life!  The blockbuster story had a great ending!

For every happy ending there seemed to be tragedy though.  I was shocked to find myself weeping like a baby because I got an email saying that same rescued elephant died.  It wasn’t fair.

It was clear:  I had fallen in love with the elephants thanks to the power of storytelling.

And those simple monthly emails had connected me to not only my adopted elephant, but the Trust and their cause.

Those stories moved me so much that I adopted two elephants for my nieces and nephews.

Is this an example of great success?  Yes.  Absolutely.

But they missed an opportunity to bring the experience full circle:

  • Adoptions are for one year.
  • My daughter was given SIRIA as a gift.

When the end of the adoption was reached, the Trust never sent me an email asking me to adopt SIRIA again. They terminated my relationship.

The Trust achieved something that every company dreams of–customer loyalty–but they missed an easy opportunity to turn me into the other thing every company dreams of–repeat business.

My daughter’s elephant taught me that powerful storytelling can move people into action, but if you fail to design for the “converted gift recipient” you miss the opportunity to propel your cause farther.

P.S.  If you’re not into elephants, how about a Black Rhino?

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