Book review: Story Wars

Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future by Jonah Sachs

Storywars

You can’t read more than a few paragraphs about fundraising practice without being told that telling stories is the key to success. (my book, for example, has a chapter about this.)

Yes, you’re going to do a lot better if you show donors through stories why they’re needed and what their gifts will do than you will with iron-clad facts and statistics.

But there’s more to it than that. Not every story is equally powerful. That’s what Story Wars is about. And that’s why you should read this book.

It’s a hands-on look at the type of stories that touch people and affect their behavior. Drawing heavily from real life, it both dissects the elements of successful stories and leads you through the process of building your own.

There’s a lot there, but the insight that I think fundraisers need to pay the most attention to is this:

If you are the hero of your own story … you wind up with only a single compelling character — yourself.

We can create far more compelling stories by realizing that our brand is not the hero, our audience members are.

That is a Big Deal. It separates the stories that make a difference from the stories that don’t. And it got me thinking about the three most common story types we use in fundraising:


  1. Almost never works: The nonprofit as hero. Our dynamic, cutting-edge methodologies and excellent staff are the best! It’s mainly empty bragging, and thus not interesting.
  2. Sometimes works: The story of a beneficiary in need. Here’s dramatic proof that our work is needed. When it’s a great story, it moves donors to care and to give. The story isn’t always great, though.
  3. Usually works: The donor as hero. Here’s your chance to make a difference! This is the real story you should always tell. In fact, the two other types of stories only work at all because the donor makes it part of her story for you.

Fundraising really is all about telling stories. But it’s about telling the right story in the right way.

I urge you to read Story Wars to deepen you understanding the power and use of stories.

Available at Amazon.


Comments

6 responses to “Book review: Story Wars”

  1. Amen Jeff. Thanks for helping lead the charge on the need for powerful stories and for giving such high praise to Jonah and this awesome book.

  2. Amen Jeff. Thanks for helping lead the charge on the need for powerful stories and for giving such high praise to Jonah and this awesome book.

  3. Jeff,
    Hi. We also did a post on this book last week–with a sample video with the kind of focus on the donor(s) as hero–exactly as you were mentioning. Was wondering if you had seen it. If not, here’s a link
    http://minimatters.com/blog/great-video-for-winning-the-story-wars/
    Thanks, Elissa

  4. Jeff,
    Hi. We also did a post on this book last week–with a sample video with the kind of focus on the donor(s) as hero–exactly as you were mentioning. Was wondering if you had seen it. If not, here’s a link
    http://minimatters.com/blog/great-video-for-winning-the-story-wars/
    Thanks, Elissa

  5. Very interesting. I must confess that I usually focus on #2, rather than #3. I’m thinking back on some of the stories that I’ve crafted, and I have a bit of a hard time imagining them being as effective if they were restructured so that they were more about the donors rather than the beneficiaries.
    Is a donor really going to get all teary if he/she hears the story of a peer rather than of a sick kid from a hospital bed? Or is my perception (and, I think, that of many others) that tears=donations a misperception?
    But I’ll reserve judgement, of course, until I’ve read the book!

  6. Very interesting. I must confess that I usually focus on #2, rather than #3. I’m thinking back on some of the stories that I’ve crafted, and I have a bit of a hard time imagining them being as effective if they were restructured so that they were more about the donors rather than the beneficiaries.
    Is a donor really going to get all teary if he/she hears the story of a peer rather than of a sick kid from a hospital bed? Or is my perception (and, I think, that of many others) that tears=donations a misperception?
    But I’ll reserve judgement, of course, until I’ve read the book!

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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