SickKids Shows the Rest How It’s Done

SickKids Foundation

SickKids debuted their latest donor campaign with a powerful new video: Sick Versus Undeniable. Given the online response in my Facebook newsfeed alone, it could easily be mistaken for the latest Beyonce single. SickKids VS Undeniable is an action packed 2 minute video of powerful images, strong lyrics, and rich narrative themes based on a traditional story template that leaves anyone who watches it feeling empowered and inspired. It’s also the best example I’ve seen in awhile of effective storytelling.

Over the last couple of years, storytelling has become the ubiquitous term for anything and everything to do with communication, on-line marketing and content development. However story structure, the thing that makes storytelling so effective, has either been lost, forgotten or never truly understood.

Neurology of Storytelling

Over centuries, our neurobiology has evolved to respond to stories with the release of the hormones cortisol, which causes us to pay attention in moments of distress and conflict, and oxytocin, that allows us to empathized and connect with the characters in the story. As explained in the video by Paul Zak, those stories that follow a dramatic arc have the ability to influence the listener to be “more likely to donate money generously to a stranger”, which for non-profits can directly impact the results of your ask. What Sick vs Undeniable does so brilliantly is follow one of the best known narrative structures: The Hero’s Journey.

The Hero’s Journey

First described by Joseph Campbell, a mythologist, writer and lecturer, The Hero’s Journey is a narrative template that can be found in traditional fables and myths passed down from generation to generation in different cultures around the world. Even to this day, many block buster movies, including The Matrix, Harry Potter to Star Wars were all are based on this narrative structure. The video SickKids vs Undeniable, uses this same structure.

SickKids VS Undeniable

SickKids VS Undeniable


We start in the Ordinary World where we’re first introduced to the hero: the kids of Sick Kids, who all face a similar Call to Adventure.In this story it’s presented as threat to life in the form of cancer, cystic fibrosis, autism, kidney failure and infant mortality. Next: the Refusal of the Call, when fears that need overcoming present themselves. Our heroes in the video don face paint, wear costumes and with strength and determination they prepare for battle. Next we Meet with the Mentor(s):the doctors, nurses and clown that give the hero something they need.


Crossing the Threshold is the Hero’s commitment to their journey an whatever it may have in store for them when they face off against Tests and Enemies. With their allies they overcome each challenge. In the video this is surgery and medical treatments our heroes go through on the journey towards their ultimate goal. In the Approach, the hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge. Now we’re in the operating room when we reach the Ordeal that results in death and rebirth. Our hero dies and is then resuscitated. The Reward is surviving, defeating the enemy and finally overcoming their greatest personal challenge. We see our hero’s in the boxing ring and on the battle field, victorious.


Finally the Road Back our hero’s continues their journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.

At the end, SickKids offers the audience the ability to join the story and help the Hero’s in their fight with a strong Call to Action: FUNDTHEFIGHT.CA. It’s hard not to feel inspired to take up arms and join them as a solider or left wanting to volunteer as a mentor that helps the hero in their journey. We can. By donating.

Well done Sickkids! Your latest campaign is a powerful demonstration on the right way to use storytelling to empower and engage your donors!

If you’re a fundraising professional, join us for a full day workshop: Craft the Perfect Ask,on November 14th in Toronto to learn more storytelling techniques and motivational psychology that will help you to effectively connect with your donors.

Kate Hodgson, Story Coach and L&D Professional