A Sleight of Hand - TBT to 2011


Enlightened Self Interest and Why Giving Today is Good for You in the Long Run

By Randy Murray

Twenty years of doing United Way videos has been a gift of insight and understanding into human nature and the human condition here in our community. By 2011, the RMP team had fifteen videos under our belt; we felt confident in our base knowledge of how United Way functioned and how it benefitted our community. But it was remembering back to middle school American History and the concept of ‘enlightened self interest’ that enabled me to understand why the work United Way does is so effective and so important.

Little Girl

Deeper Objective

The funny thing about being a storyteller is that you spend most of your time working alone or with a small group of people, yet it is an understanding of human nature that elevates the craft. We don’t just tell a story; we hope to craft how people will react to our story, how they will feel about our subject matter and how they will think about what they watched. Our objective is not just to put a beautiful image on the screen but to put a beautiful thought into the mind of the viewer.

In 2011, we wanted the viewers to take home two key messages (or beautiful thoughts): 1) that this is their community and 2) that giving to United Way is a smart investment that pays them and the community back many times over. And of course, as storytellers we needed to engage them in a fun way that supports our key messages.

Sleight of Hand

To make the video entertaining while supporting the key messages, we employed a little trick of the trade to ‘fool’ the viewer. I think this worked best in the first story. With our blocking, we deliberately implied that Shawna was getting free medical support from a United Way agency, but then revealed that Shawna was the nurse and that because of your past donations and the work of United Way, she is now part of the solution. She is not a drain on resources but a contributing member of our community. We hint at this sleight of hand with Kevin’s and Gabriel’s stories, but it is in the Julianna story where we had a little more fun with the concept. While we heard about her struggle to get her family on their feet, we used images of her and her kids looking grim. We then revealed that they are in their own home playing a ‘very serious’ board game. Tricks like this are not new or amazing; they just help engage the viewer and help drive home the message – two plusses to the telling of any story.

Family Game Night

School of Fishing

This video was designed to drive home the concept that the Valley is our community and our responsibility. Having the viewer accept ownership of and responsibility for the community, however, is just a vehicle to deliver the most critical and powerful point of this persuasion: that taking responsibility, taking ownership of the challenges we face, is actually better for you personally than not taking responsibility. By providing Shawna with just a little help, we now have someone who will help a lot of people that we don’t have to worry about. In other words, if this is our community and we are going to have people in need, it is smarter to help a few to become part of the solution than to give just a little help to everyone who needs it forever. United Way is not just teaching people to fish, they are teaching people to teach others to fish. And I think that is pretty darn smart.

Food Pantry Volunteers

Selfish in a Good Way

Our founding fathers also thought this was a smart idea. The concept of Enlightened Self Interest was one of the core principles of those who formed our nation. The idea that it was actually in our own self interest to help others made sense if we were looking at the longer perspective. For example, let’s look at a small business, say a video production company. Sure, giving to United Way reduces the cash and resources that the company has on hand at that time, but the work of United Way creates a healthier community. More businesses are attracted to start or relocate here. That, in turn, creates greater opportunity for the production company. More young people grow up well-educated and more stable, giving the production company a higher quality pool of potential employees. Because people who have been helped are more likely to offer their help, United Way will have broader support in the future, reducing the need to ask for greater and greater donations from the production company. And, being recognized as an active and caring member of the community, the production company will enjoy a positive image in the community; that is good for business. So, while you may not want to give to United Way for selfish reasons, it is worth recognizing that giving to United Way is actually good for your future bottom line. You can see why, as a young student, I was so enamored with the idea of Enlightened Self Interest.

Of course, we are all a bit selfish. It only makes sense to me, however, to recognize that self interest is a powerful force of human nature and that United Way is a powerful force to improve the human condition in our community.

Girl Smiling


Randy is an award-winning director and producer with a passion for helping others through the power of storytelling. He’s also a political junkie, loves college football, and enjoys performing random magic tricks for children he meets in the street.