There’s an old fable about a village near a great river, a river used for drinking water, fishing and washing. One day a fisherman noticed someone floating downstream, unable to swim to safety and yelling for help. The fisherman jumped into the river and swam toward him, eventually pulling him safely to the river bank, only to see another person floating downstream, yelling for help.
After saving the second person, more people continued to float down the river. The fisherman then had the idea to set up a post nearby with a villager on duty, ready to jump in and save anyone in peril — a sort of direct service to save people from drowning. However, this didn’t stop the people from floating down river and the villagers couldn’t save everyone.
They began to wonder where all these people were coming from and decided to go upstream to find out. After hiking upriver, they found a perilous broken bridge from which people were falling into the river. The villagers decided to fix the bridge to prevent people from falling in.
They had found a solution to a persistent problem by looking at its direct cause and fixing it.
This classic parable is often used by organizations looking at prevention in the fields of healthcare, education and law enforcement. It also served as a guiding principle for the Humboldt Area Foundation’s newly established Donor Circle Fund.