Philanthropy

How Masters of Marketing (Like You!) Can Help Fight Human Trafficking

Storytelling isn't just for selling products. It can also be used to generate funds for a cause that breaks your heart.
How Masters of Marketing (Like You!) Can Help Fight Human Trafficking
Image credit: Helen H. Richardson | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Director and Producer; Expert on Branding and Storytelling
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There’s one simple truth to get clear on the topic of human trafficking: Human trafficking = slavery.

Let that sink in for a minute. It’s easy to think that "trafficking” is just the latest nonprofit buzzword for helping those in need, but it’s far more than that. Slavery -- the unconscionable practice of human bondage that many consider a vestige of the past -- is happening right now, all over the world … even right in your own “backyard” here in the United States.

This month, National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month, proclaimed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a good time to really give this some thought.

Related: Shannon Keith Is Fighting Sex Trafficking in India, One Beautiful Pajama Set at a Time

Americans tend to assume that the United States brought slavery to an end 150 years ago when we ratified the 13th Amendment. The truth is, though, that human trafficking is very much an American problem. One recent story the American public has become familiar with is that of Cyntoia Brown, who was forced into prostitution at the age of 16, then jailed with a life sentence for killing a man who solicited her for sex. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has just granted Brown clemency.

This story is hardly unique. Brown's horrific experience is just one among thousands of such stories that too often go unnoticed. Not only are an estimated 200,000 women forced into the sex trade in the United States each year, but our country’s largest human trafficking event is the Super Bowl. Yes, the Super Bowl! It doesn’t get much more "American" than that.

The latest statistics from the Polaris Project estimate that there are more than 40 million victims of human trafficking worldwide and that 25 percent of them are children. A report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that there are approximately 1.5 million human trafficking victims in the United States.

Feeling heartbroken and hopeless at reading these staggering numbers is a common reaction; but listen up, entrepreneurs, because there is something you can do. This problem affects us all, and it’s time to do something about it.

Make a nonprofit impact using your marketing skills.

Right now, there are forces on the ground and a vast network of people behind the scenes fighting to end human trafficking. For example, take a moment and check out the incredible, life-saving work of Operation Underground Railroad, a client of mine which works against child sex trafficking. I directed O.U.R.'s documentary Operation Toussaint and on Jan. 11, 2018, worked with the organization and Haitian law enforcement to re-capture that nation's most wanted sex trafficking leader and her fellow traffickers (released by corrupt judges earlier in 2017). Want to know more? Here's a video report on that capture. 

What moved me especially was the decision of O.U.R.'s founder, Tim Ballard, to adopt two of the rescued children to be part of his own family. 

Of course, to be as effective and impactful as possible, nonprofits like O.U.R. need funding. That’s where we entrepreneurs come in.

Related: Silicon Valley: Human Trafficking Bill 'Overly Broad'

No, I’m not necessarily talking about taking out your wallet (though that’s a great way to contribute, too). Equally as important is your ability as a business owner or company power player to have a tangible impact on the causes that matter to you in the world. You can make a huge difference with less effort than you might imagine. Here's how:

1. Pick any cause you like.

It should be something you feel passionate about, something that lights you up or infuriates you.

2. Use storytelling to inspire.

  • Treat your interest in supporting this cause just as you would plan a new product launch. Put storytelling (or "storyselling," as I like to call it) to work for your cause:
  • Show those who need help. Focus on one person (or animal) who's in a life-and-death situation, where assistance is desperately needed.
  • Show those you've helped on social media. For example, Make-a-Wish foundation shares its video wishes on YouTube. By showing how your your cause initiative actually made a difference, you demonstrate the actual good that donations can do for potential donors.
  • Show some star power. When Hollywood makes a movie about an actual event or living notable, it doesn't go out and hire the people involved to reenact the story; it hires big-name actors. Why? Because people want to see celebrities. So, if you can get one on board with your cause, you can win even bigger.
  • "Leave 'em laughing." Humor is definitely not always the best way to motivate action, but it can still be effective. Funny online videos always get a lot of attention, but, again, results from those funny videos can be mixed (which is a reason why a lot of companies actually shy away from humorous advertising).
  • Make a video. Use your resources within your business to help make a video that sheds light on the subject. In my business, my clients help me fund several documentaries on non-profits each year; and we use them to help raise awareness and funds. Don’t worry if you don’t direct films; you can solicit others to help you.

These are just a few of the most prominent cause-marketing approaches. There are many more, available for viewing on the internet. You just have to choose which narrative will work for you and your specific fund-raising needs.

3. Bonus: Use your live event to support the nonprofit. 

Steps one and two will get you rolling, with impactful fund-raising efforts for the cause you’re passionate about, but to knock it out of the park, consider that annual live event of yours as another way to raise money. Notice that I didn't say "to target on your cause." Your live event should be all about your business and its wheelhouse -- everything that makes your customers want to work with you and use your products and services in the first place. 

Bring your audience together to celebrate your business; then share your cause with this “captive audience,” including a clear “What’s in it for me?” element to draw those people into participating. My partners at ClickFunnels did this recently at their annual event in Orlando by offering recordings of all of their conference speakers to the 3,000 entrepreneurs in the audience who made a minimum $250 donation to O.U.R. A million dollars was raised in three days. 

It’s all about engagement.

The fundamental question for entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in the world is: How can I simultaneously engage my audience and enroll them in my goals? The answer: storyselling. It’s the best way to build relationships with your customers online and over time. Ultimately, those customers just may become passionate about what you share with them.

Related: Nobel Peace Prize Winners are Warfare Heroes and Combatants

Beyond your audience, your particular passion project can engage and invigorate your employees, giving them added incentive to build their careers with you and your company -- during this National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and beyond.

Opening a window into your company’s larger purpose in the world is one crucial piece of creating a great company culture.  It worked for those beautiful, innocent children rescued in Haiti. It can work for you.

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