Bates College parking meter story connects giving to community

At first glance, I don’t welcome the email from Christina Wellington Traister. The body reminds me that I haven’t sent in my pledge to Bates. Not a word about what amount I had pledged, which I’ve long forgotten. Righteous annoyance almost cancels appropriate guilt.

But the PS grabbed me.  (And yes, I read the PS first. I quickly see that the main message holds bad news for me).

“P.S. Have you heard the Bates parking meter story? It’s two minutes and guaranteed to make you smile…this was sent to alumni (who hadn’t made a Bates Fund gift or pledge) two weeks ago.”

I can’t imagine a parking meter on the leafy Bates quad of my memory, nor even on the surrounding streets of sleepy Lewiston, Maine, so “the parking meter story” monicker raises a question I can’t answer without clicking on the link, a classic teaser trope. Christina promises to answer the question in two minutes or less and amuse me in the process.

I like the quick and indirect way Christina clues me in that this is not just a funny story. She tells me this story was sent to non-contributing alums a couple of weeks ago. That truth-in-advertising builds vital trust and gently reminds me that I’m a delinquent, too. I click on the link.The promised story is delivered without flash in a warm, male voice. The tale is simple.(Spoiler alert!) Because she had a Bates sticker in her car window, a Bates alum is saved from an expiring parking meter by another anonymous alum who leaves a  note about sticking together. That little story is set inside another even tinier story. The narration begins, “The day we dropped our son off at Bates, the Associate Dean of students told us this story…”

In the first nine words, I’m time-traveled back to that quad, then I’m whisked off to Boston where the actual incident takes place (photos of Bates and a parking meter support the scene-setting).

At 45 seconds, the parking meter story ends. The narrator names a few critical values of the Bates education his son is getting, but quickly gets to the core message: Bates is a community that lasts a lifetime. “Batesies take care of each other. And now we need you to take care of Bates.” Professional-quality still images of students in interesting settings back up each new idea.

After a final dollop of urgency (“The Bates Fund ends of June 30th. The meter is running down.”) the narrator directs us to the link where we can give and the video ends. It’s engaging, on-point and efficient with my time. It creates an experience that feels simple and brief, but which uses complex narrative to draw me through it and move me to give. I’ll be imitating this one as soon as I get the chance.

Well done, Christina! And I’ll make good on the pledge if you’ll tell me what it was.

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