Inspirational Books: Made to Stick

A friend of a friend of ours is a frequent business traveler. Let’s call him Dave. Dave was recently in Atlantic City for an important meeting with clients. Afterward, he had some time to kill before his flight, so he went to a local bar for a drink.

He’d just finished one drink when an attractive woman approached and asked if she could buy him another. He was surprised, but flattered. Sure, he said. The woman walked to the bar and brought back two more drinks—one for her and one for him. He thanked her and took a sip. And that was the last thing he remembered.

Rather, that was the last thing he remembered until he woke up, disoriented, lying in a hotel bathtub, his body submerged in ice.

He looked around frantically, trying to figure out where he was and how he got there. Then he spotted a note:


A cell phone rested on a small table beside the bathtub. He picked it up and called 911, his fingers numb and clumsy from the ice. The operator seemed oddly familiar with his situation. She said, “Sir, I want you to reach behind you, slowly and carefully. Is there a tube protruding from your lower back?”

Anxious, he felt around behind him. Sure enough, there was a tube.

The operator said, “Sir, don’t panic, but one of your kidneys has been harvested. There’s a ring of organ thieves operating in this city, and they got to you. Paramedics are on their way. Don’t move until they arrive.”


I’m sure a lot of you have caught onto this story, but when I first started reading Made to Stick, I had never heard this urban legend before. When I got to this point in the introduction, I audibly gasped, and got my husband’s attention, “Josh! You’ll never believe this story that I just read! The author’s buddy was on a business trip and his kidney was stollen!”

I had fallen into the urban legend right before the authors of Made to Stick, Chip Heath and Dan Heath, said this:

“You’ve just read one of the most successful urban legends of the past 15 years.”

Man, did I feel silly. I had to regain the attention of my husband, who clearly wasn’t as shocked as I was by the story, and explain that I had been duped. I mumbled (fading out until what I was saying was hardly audible), “Never mind… it was just an urban legend.”

Chip and Dan Heath use this urban legend as an example of a sticky story. Sticky stories are stories that we only have to hear one time before we remember them. We might not be able to remember all of the small details, but we remember the important parts, such as a man on a business trip, a bar, a mysterious lady with a spiked drink, and waking up without a kidney.

The Heath brothers go on to say,

“The Kidney Heist is a story that sticks. We understand it, we remember it, and we can retell it later. And if we believe it’s true, it might change our behavior permanently—at least in terms of accepting drinks from attractive strangers.”

Now, as the Chip and Dan Heath asked in the book, I want to ask you to compare this story to the conversations you had within your nonprofit organization yesterday. Can you remember anything from that board meeting you had? Can you remember that really important bit of information that your co-worker shared? If you are like me, you probably don’t remember hardly anything from your conversations yesterday. Let’s be honest, they weren’t as “sticky” as the Kidney Heist.

But, isn’t that what we are trying to do in the nonprofit sector when we are writing grants, trying to find donors, creating a website, and doing everything else? We are trying to make our story stick with our audience. We want them to remember what we are doing as an organization and share it with everyone they know. We want them to be impacted by our cause and immediately desire to join forces with us.

Here’s the point:

In the nonprofit sector, we want our stories to stick. 

In my experience, I can think of a few nonprofit stories that stuck with me immediately.

The one that I want to share today is one my mom told me about. She called me up and said, “Steph, have you heard about this organization called” I told her I had no idea what she was talking about, and she told me a story of Shelene Bryan.

Rather than tell her story in my own words, here is Shelene telling her own story:

Do you think this story is sticky? I definitely do! My mom told me this story once, years ago, and I still remember a lot of the details. Plus, it caused me to immediately go and buy Shelene’s book, and donate to the organization.

Now THAT is what you want to happen in your own organization.

Returning to Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath have come up with six principles that make a story “sticky.”

Principle 1: Simplicity

Principle 2: Unexpectedness

Principle 3: Concreteness

Principle 4: Credibility

Principle 5: Emotions

Principle 6: Stories

They then spend the rest of the book diving into these principles and helping us, their audience, learn how to turn our ideas and stories into “sticky” ideas and stories. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to get their story to stick. Most importantly, I recommend it to nonprofit organizations because every nonprofit organization wants their story to stick, so that people will want to donate and join their cause.

I’m not finished with the book yet, so I will probably write another article diving into the 6 principles, but for now, if you have time, go pick up a copy.

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