Public Image Works: On Cupcakes and Community

December 28, 2015


Two things to know about me: I love cupcakes, and I enjoy celebrating birthdays, other people’s and my own. This year, I wanted to mark my birthday with a fun way to connect with my community in a fun way.

I decided to give away 48 cupcakes — one for each year of my life. I chose the nearby Sweet Life Bakeshop. Shop owner Megan promised a variety of delicious cupcakes, but when the day came she outdid herself and packed nearly 70 mini-cupcakes into two boxes for me. At first, I was concerned about all of those extra cupcakes, as I wondered if I could give away even 48. Then, I decided I would either talk with more people or eat more cupcakes — a win-win!

Practice that Rap — Hearing ‘No’

I approached the first person I saw, a woman at a bus stop. The situation threw me back to my days of canvassing for environmental campaigns — the asking was hard! Though I strongly believed in the issues, I was shy and took rejection personally. Years later, I was happy to learn that I no longer take a “no” as a personal slight, which is good because most strangers to whom I offered cupcakes said “no.”

Initially, I was a bit disappointed, and then I became curious as to why people declined my offer of a cupcake. I began to think about what I was asking of them. To accept unpackaged food that they may not enjoy or be able to eat. To engage with someone they don’t know when they are walking, waiting or talking to someone else.

I practiced different ways to ask, attempting to find an angle that would resonate with each person. If they were creatively dressed, I spoke of the beautiful, hand-made cupcakes I had to offer. If I guessed they were near my age or older, I spoke of my wish to honor all of my years on earth by giving away cupcakes. I tried to keep my request concise and have a clear call to action — eat a cupcake in celebration of my birthday!

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Coffee Shop

The few strangers that said yes did so enthusiastically, enjoyed multiple cupcakes and spoke with me for several minutes about my birthday experiment and birthday experiences they have had. Those interactions happened in a coffee shop that I go to several times each week and while I had not noticed the cupcake-eating strangers before, I wonder if the comfortable shared atmosphere of “our” coffee shop helped them say yes. Those positive experiences bolstered my energy for more cupcake interactions.

Love me, Love my Cupcakes

Acquaintances and friends said yes, all with delight. In response to my request, these people took one or more cupcakes, asked to take some for loved ones, and gave me birthday hugs. My friends all commented on how fun the cupcake give-away was, which reaffirmed my reasons for doing this in the first place. These responses reinforced the idea that honored relationships are powerful — we know and appreciate each other and show that by taking time to listen and respond thoughtfully and positively, as well as accepting little gifts.

A Win-Win

While I did test my cupcake-eating capacity that day, I shared more cupcakes than I ate and had some to give to friends over the next few days. That day, I deepened some relationships by showing vulnerability in making the request and shared happiness by offering something I enjoy to people in my community. I learned I could even handle them declining the gift.


What’s been your experience in approaching people to ask for or share something important to you?

Tell me about it, below, or email me at

Laura Steffen is one of the Social Impact Studios facilitators for Public Image Works, a Dodge Technical Assistance series designed to help good groups get the attention their important missions demand. 

About Social Impact Studios

Since 1996, the people at Social Impact Studios have combined artistry and activism to promote important social issues. They believe good causes should get more attention than anything else. And they believe thoughtful, beautiful and meaningful communication is still the best way to engage and motivate people. Social Impact Studios is a creative hub where groups and creative activists collaborate, learn and do the work. From concept creation, they design action plans, visuals, messages and moving grassroots experiences that make a social impact — together.