Do we really need another book on storytelling? Part 2

Written by
Bethan Francis
& Rory Green
February 05, 2015

​Book review

Storytelling can change the world by Ken Burnett

Reviewed for SOFII by: 

Bethan Francis: A book that tells the truth

Rory Green: Doing the basics properly

A book that tells the truth

Review of part 1 of Storytelling can change the world, by Bethan Francis

‘Stories spin spells, build consensus, inspire imaginations, bind relationships, break hearts, entertain, amuse, spread fun, love, misery and mischief.’

Stories really can change the world.

First things first, this book is not a lesson in fictional writing. It is a book about telling the truth, be that recounting history, an experience, or a journey and telling it well. Specifically this book is about transformational storytelling.

‘Transformational storytelling involves using a story to make a difference, implicitly a positive difference, to change someone or something for the better. Stories told well in particular ways have potential to make things happen, to shake things up. The change may be large or small, temporary or permanent, actual or intangible, personal or public. Potentially powerful, transformational stories work best when told carefully, deliberately and responsibly.’

I’ve been tasked with reviewing the first part of Ken’s work, which focuses on why we (should) tell stories. It explores the importance, relevance and power of storytelling, through history to the modern day.

Stories are cleverly used throughout to illustrate points, such as that of Anne Frank, whose life and diary is used as an example of a truly transformational story.Examples such as this allow Ken to seamlessly step into sharing his campaign for better storytelling in education. He believes that there is huge potential to increase learning levels amongst children and those in higher education. We’ve all studied history at some point but I’m pretty sure most of us would do a poor job of remembering the facts, figures and dates given in text books. However, where transformational stories such as Anne Frank’s diary have been used in schools, we remember.

‘Anne has...shaped the values and beliefs of successive generations, thereby reducing the chance of such a holocaust ever occurring again.’

Her story has changed the world.

As I mentioned, stories are plentiful in this book about stories. And while the story of Anne may seem an obvious one, there are many less so - strap lines, captions, pictures, even business presentations could and should all be considered stories, Ken tells me.

Throughout the book we are reminded that stories have been used to share information and influence the listener since the beginning of time, from cave painting to religious reading, from nursery rhymes to Twitter. But Ken also brings the art of storytelling bang up to date by sharing emerging trends from the corporate world, where stories are beginning to be used in place of traditional sales techniques. This makes sense, stories are one of the most powerful ways to subtly influence and persuade others to do what they might otherwise not.

‘Today every enterprise wants a better conversation with its customers. Making a sale is more likely now to come from serving than selling, from being inspiring and interesting rather than from interrupting or wearing down with high-pressure aggression...and gimmicks.’

And so Ken tells of organisations such as Coca Cola employing ‘story telling and marketing communications managers’ and introducing the marketing slogan ‘refreshing the world, one story at a time’.

‘Coca-Cola reckons the corporate website is dead. Inspired by the power of storytelling to cultivate engagement the company has launched the Coca-Cola Journey ( as a highly visual, shareable digital magazine. The content on offer is themed around pop culture, social media, brand history, marketing campaigns, recipes, career advice and more, creating a site that – in their words, in a good way – is a far cry from the traditional corporate effort.’

I was left with two thoughts on completing this first part of the book;

  1. We’ve finally got a head start on something in comparison to the commercial world. Fundraising organisations already use story-telling to change the world in a way that rivals any other industry.
  2. Things just got exciting. Now that big corporations such as Coca Cola have woken up to the power of storytelling $billions will surely be spent on better understanding the science and developing the art of storytelling.

Imagine how much more impact we could have by properly applying the science of good storytelling to what we do? For storytelling is a science, there are rights and wrongs, challenges and cautions, all of which Ken promises to teach us in later sections of the book. Imagine if we take storytelling into everything we do, why not our financial reports Ken asks? I can’t wait to read the rest of the book and to learn how to tell better, transformational stories. 

Doing the basics properly

Review of part 2 of Storytelling can change the world, by Rory Green

Attract younger donors.

A new app that makes giving easy.

Raising money without asking.

Crowdfunding secrets that raise millions.

Come up with the next ice bucket challenge.

This book won’t help you do any of that. Thank God.

It seems like everywhere I turn, charities are looking for get-rich-quick, too-good-to-be-true solutions to raise money from with the latest technology. And yet, so few are doing the basics truly well. By the basics I mean:

  • Telling great stories.
  • Asking for money.
  • Saying thank you, telling more stories.
  • Asking again.
  • Retaining donors.

The concept that storytelling is important for nonprofits is certainly nothing new. I am sure you have heard it before, many times. Yet we need to look no further than our own annual reports to know charities aren’t doing a good enough job telling great stories to their donors. That’s where Ken Burnett comes in.

This book has information – and inspiration – to help you tell better stories, whether you are a new fundraiser, or have been at this for years.

One of the main reasons I love this book is the simple paradigm and philosophy Ken has:

‘…people (donors) want to make the world a better place. That’s why they give to charity. Telling them beautiful stories about the difference their gift could make (or has made) is the only way to show your donors that they are truly helping others.’

In section two, Ken makes a bold claim that has been somewhat contested in the fundraising community: ‘Fundraising isn’t about money , it’s about work that urgently needs doing. Money is the means to an end, not the end itself’. I, for one, couldn’t agree more. We are in the business of making important change in the world – and you as a fundraiser can’t make that change if you aren’t an expert teller of stories.

Part two is very much about the mechanics of the story. It gives the reader concrete ways to craft and tell a story that include the importance of defining and understanding your audience - and telling the right story to resonate with your audience. Once you master this, you can make a decision on content, length and style of a story based on your audience.

You are also going to learn how to make key decisions about the story’s hero, how long the story should be, and how to set the tone of the story. All helpful and practical information that will make you a better fundraiser.

Storytelling is like a muscle that needs to be exercised to get stronger – and with this book Ken Burnett can be your storytelling coach. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start telling stories.

Once upon a time there was a fundraiser. She loved her job and was passionate about her cause. But an evil force lurked at her charity. Its weapons were fiscal year end, internal politics, and a boss who loved statistics. This evil force was dragging down their fundraising results. Mailings weren’t meeting their goal. The fundraisers were getting scared. It seemed that all was lost. Then one day, our fundraiser picked up a book. It was all about storytelling. She read it, and felt inspired and empowered. She started telling stories to her donors. Stories of real people. Stories of lives change. Stories that made you feel something. And things started to change. Fundraising results went up. Donors were happy and kept giving. Stories had vanquished the evil force. All was well in the land. The fundraiser knew she’d never go back to the old ways again. And she lived happily ever after, thanks to Ken Burnett.

About Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett is author ofRelationship Fundraising and other books including The Tiny Essentials of an Effective Volunteer Board (The White Lion Press Limited, London, UK) and The Zen of Fundraising, (Jossey-Bass Inc, San Francisco, USA). Ken is also SOFII’s managing trustee.

About the author: Bethan Francis

Bethan Francis

Bethan Francis is client services director at Pell & Bales. She is a passionate fundraiser and feels privileged to have worked with many of the UK’s favourite charities over the last 10 years, helping them to drive their fundraising strategies. She believes that good insight and good data is behind every fundraising success and in her work is lucky enough to be exposed to both.

About the author: Rory Green

Rory Green

Rory Green has been fundraising since the age of 10, when she volunteered to help run her school’s annual bike-a-thon for juvenile cancer research. Fundraising became her vocation at 14, when she lost a friend to leukaemia. Rory Green has been in the philanthropic sector for over eight years and is currently the associate director, Advancement for the Faculty of Applied Science at Simon Fraser University. Rory has also worked in major and corporate giving at BCIT and the Canadian Cancer Society. Her passion is donors. How to listen to them. How to talk to them. How to help them feel better about themselves through philanthropy than they ever thought possible. In her spare time Rory is the founder and editor of Fundraiser Grrl, the fundraising community’s go-to source for comic relief.

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