Getting your messages to stick

made to stick book cover

by Lucy Gower

Made to Stick is all about how to make your messages ‘stick’ in the minds of your audience. Authors Chip and Dan Heath firmly believe that if an idea is understood, it is remembered and it changes something. Given that fundraising at its most basic is about ‘changing something’ I think this book is a must read for any fundraiser, in any discipline, at any level of experience.

Chip and Dan have identified that all ‘sticky’ ideas have six common principles. Made to Stick walks you though the principles one by one, illustrating them with sticky stories (not surprisingly!) and anecdotes to help their ideas ‘stick’ with you.

I recently presented some sessions about innovation in fundraising at the Institute of Fundraising Convention 2011 in London. I had the last session of the last day so I was really aware that I had a tough task keeping people’s attention. I used Chip and Dan’s six principles to help make my points stick with my audience.

  1. Simple. I kept the core message simple and made sure that every point I made reinforced my core message; that innovation and creativity is essential and with some training and practice we can all do it. I used the analogy that not working your brain to its full capacity is the equivalent of having the latest computer software but only using it for word processing.
  2. Unexpected. I asked the audience questions, and got them to participate. I talked about Viagra as an accidental innovation; originally developed as a high blood pressure drug with interesting side effects. I think this was unexpected!
  3. Concrete. This is about being specific and painting a mental picture with words by using sensory language. I talked about making giant leaps, asking people to imagine what it would feel like to have the breakthrough fundraising idea that changes the fundraising world as we know it.
  4. Credible. I quoted experts and statistics but also told stories about individual people, for example Roger Bannister and his belief that enabled him to be the first man to run a mile in under four minutes, Tim Ferris and his focus on winning gold in the 1999 Chinese Kickboxing Championships or Dick Fosbury and his determination and resilience to find a better way to high jump.
  5. Emotional. I got people to practice, so they felt what it was like to ‘have a go’ and get excited about coming up with cool ideas. If you can make people feel an emotion, it is hugely powerful.
  6. Stories. The very process of telling a story helps people see how an existing problem might change and how they could help that change happen. My presentation was peppered with stories of people like you, that inspired change, on the basis if they can do it, there is no reason why you can’t too.

The three things that I learnt are;

  • you have to gather a portfolio of stories
  • you have to practice
  • you have to try things out to find out what works for both you and your audience.

My example is about presenting to an audience, but these six principles can apply to any spoken or written communication for any audience. I think that the more of the six principles that you can weave into your communications, the more likely it is that your messages will stick. Your challenge is to continually and deliberately seek stories that inspire you and that you can tell to inspire others. My suggestion on ways to do this are;

  • Carry a notebook with you. Use it, make collecting stories and observations on life a habit and build a portfolio of stories that you can choose from.
  • Read more stories. Millions of authors have spent time writing stories. Read them. Think about what the author does to keep you eagerly turning the pages. Try using that author’s tactics on your own stories.
  • Watch films and consider their storytelling styles. What keeps your interest? What turns you off?
  • Practice telling stories; practice on your friends and family, use your voice and body language to bring the stories to life.
  • Practice writing. Start a blog.

Made to Stick is for anyone who has to communicate on any level, it will help you think more about your communication style, tell better stories to connect donors to your cause, help you focus on key messages and – who knows you might even enjoy it.

If you like the six principles in Made to Stick, I’ve also written a blog about it on which includes some fundraising examples which may give you some more ideas about putting the six principles into practice.

Lucy Gower is Innovation and Development Manager at the NSPCC, a UK charity whose core mission is to prevent cruelty to children. Lucy is passionate about innovation and how it can transform organisational and individual performance, and ultimately make a difference to the causes that you fundraise for. Lucy is based in London and you can contact her at via Twitter @lucyinnovation or via her blog

You can find Made to Stick, and other great books that will help you fundraise better, in our Fundraising Books Store.

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