Stories that Create a Giving Culture

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Who among us is not drawn in by a good story?

Stories are the best way we share our experiences and the lessons we learn in life.  Families and communities pass along their traditions, beliefs, and moral values through storytelling.  For centuries, stories and wisdom tales have been shared around campfires and dining room tables, out under the stars, and in temples, mosques, and cathedrals all over the world.  We tell stories to explain the origins of the universe and to explain the mysteries of life and death.

Storytelling, at its best, conveys the rich diversity and texture of humanity, creating a safe and sometimes therapeutic space for challenging assumptions and fostering  tolerance of differences among people.   Well told stories touch our spirits, warm our hearts, and leave lasting images in our minds.   Sharing our soul-filled stories is another way of expressing gratitude and demonstrating generosity.

It should be no surprise to us that storytelling is a very effective tool in nurturing generosity and teaching stewardship in our faith communities.  Sacred texts around the world are a testimony to the power of the story in teaching and learning religious values.  One way to promote generous behavior is to tell the stories of how giving made a difference in your life or others’ lives.  For example, as part of a year-round stewardship program, you can invite people to share their stories in the context of worship, small group ministry, religious education, in digital or print form.

Here are a few ideas for you to consider as you plan your stewardship activities for the coming year:

  • Share stories in worship–this may be a testimony about how the congregation or faith has touched their life in positive ways, a wisdom tale for all ages to enjoy, or a guest whose organization has been the recipient of your congregation’s generosity.
  • Host a storytelling event–hold a potluck dinner or picnic at your facility, open to the community, and invite participants to come ready to share a story that conveys at least one value of the faith tradition.
  • Design a story display board–invite people to write their generosity stories down, along with their photo and perhaps some art work.
  • Create a video or visual story–convey your faith community’s stewardship values and generosity through the use of technology, posting video stories on YouTube, on your congregation’s website, blog or Facebook page.
  • Offer a story prompt–Give your constituents a theme or first line of a story, and let them create a community story.  This could be a part of a small group activity, religious education class, or just a big graffiti board people can write on as they enter the building or enjoy fellowship hour.

The summertime is a great time of year for stewardship leaders to polish their storytelling skills–around the campfire while toasting marshmallows, on the riverbank while fishing, or at an informal gathering of friends.  Share your story and invite others to share theirs; this is how the bonds of family and society are strengthened.  This is a wonderful way to include children, youth, and elders in multi-generational community!

Here are some tips for enhancing your storytelling:

  • Reflect on a memorable experience from which you learned and grew as a person–
    if it holds meaning for you, it can be meaningful to others.
  • Stick to the heart of the message you want to convey and avoid too much detail.
  • Lift up a unique angle or unusual perspective that will pique the listeners’ interest.
  • Engage as many of your listeners’ five senses as possible1507 Hands Sm 123rf to bring the story alive
  • Be sensitive to your audience’s diversity using inclusive language so that all feel a part of it.
  • Use the opportunity of telling your story to connect your experience with your faith teachings and values in ways that others can relate to personally.
  • Tell the story without reading it whenever possible–practice, practice, practice to feel more confident, but realize storytelling does not demand perfection.
  • Engage your audience with movement, song, sounds, or repeated phrases that makes them part of the story.
  • Have fun!  Your enthusiasm and enjoyment are contagious.

 If you have a story or link to share, please leave a comment for the blog host with your contact info.

Resources for Storytelling:


Learn to Give:

National Storytelling Network:

Recommended Stories for All Ages:

Resources for Multigenerational Stewardship & Generosity

Unitarian Universalist Stories of Generosity & Multigenerational Worship Resources:

Pearmain, Elisa Davy, editor.  Doorways to the Soul  1998.  The Pilgrim Press.

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Gathering the Abundance: Stories and Transformation

This is a resource for engaging our congregations in telling their stories as a way of interpreting and fulfilling their missions, by Rev. Naomi King~

A good inspirational story invites the listener into an emotionally laden conflict and brings the listener into a place of hope, joy, commitment, and/or encouragement.  When we read stories or hear them, each story reveals its emotional content.  We can only find that if we 1) observe the person telling the story and what emotional signals they are presenting and 2) observe our own reactions to the story and the emotional signals within ourselves.

How may we interpret our mission in the stories of our congregations and our cultures of giving?

First, refresh yourself with your congregation’s mission.  What is the story it is telling us?   What challenges does the mission present us?

Second, What’s the conflict in the story?  For example:

a)  We have not been engaging in social justice activities that reflect our deepest values and priorities as a congregation;

b) We’ve needed people who understand the ways to stand on the side of love and commit to leading the way;

c) We don’t have the money do all that we need in order to accomplish our social justice mission in the world.

Third, how might the conflict be resolved?

a) Offer a new model or alternative perspective as a solution to the problem or conflict;

b) Provide examples of real people who’ve made a difference through their contributions, both in their efforts and their resources;

c) Find donors willing to make matching or challenge grant to stimulate heightened giving and involvement.

Fourth, draft a way to retell a brief and pithy version of the story that uses descriptive language and imagery.  Bring the story to life!
Fifth, how does the story affect our congregation?


The Emotional Arc:  Story and Transformation

Every story has encapsulated within it a conflict.  Every conflict has emotions attached to it.  Inspirational stories invite the listener into emotional identification with the conflict and its heart-warming or hopeful resolution.  Every story has an emotional arc.  Inspirational stories resolve conflicts in such a way that the listener’s own emotions follow the emotional narrative of the story.

Some Emotional Arcs





Transformational storytelling requires the storyteller to discover the emotional arc of the current story, imagine a new story’s emotional arc beginning in the same place as the current story, and offering the new story repeatedly, to guide the listeners into another emotional state.  Some people call this reframing.  Effective reframing begins with the original story’s emotional beginning, but opens to a new possible ending.

For example, a congregation may frame its story in this way:

We are a poor church; we always have been and always will be. 

There are at least two possible arcs to this story which may influence the experience of the congregation:

1)  Pride–pleasure–contentment

2) Shame–defensiveness–resignation

Another example:

Our congregation has survived the tough times through good stewardship and a commitment to generosity.  We have great opportunities and energy; and we’ll find our way through!

The Emotional Arc begins with pride, then moves to joy, then to hope and heightened commitment.

And another;

We have been a church without many resources, but we’re different now.  We have a great program, lots of visitors, and a clear sense of mission.  We are on our way!

The Emotional Arc begins with shame, but moves quickly to hope, followed by confirmation, pride, and excitement.


The Reverend Naomi King is a Unitarian Universalist minister who has served congregations in Maine, Texas, New York, and Florida.  Naomi’s virtual ministry has expanded through social networking to touch the lives of many around the world.

Rev. Naomi King was the recipient of the UUA’s Stewardship Sermon Award in 2005, for her sermon entitled Stand By This Faith,

To contact Rev. Naomi:

Twitter:  @revnaomi


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Be Like Water

This is another in the Creating Cultures of Generosity–One Story at a Time series…..Be Like Water  by Laurel Amabile

Be like water

run deep run clear

fill any space to its own dimensions

respond to the moon, to gravity

change colors with the light

hold your temperature longer than the surrounding air

take the coast by storm

go under ground

bend light

be the one thing people need, even when they’re


eat boulders, quietly

be a universal solvent.

                                                       ~Kendra Ford*

In Kendra Ford’s lovely poetic imagery, we are being invited to be like water, to be a universal solvent.

A solvent is a substance in which another substance is dissolved, forming a solution.  Solvents explain things and change things.  Water is considered a “universal solvent,” for it is a powerful and life-sustaining necessity, as is change.

Being a stewardship leader and fundraiser–whether in a paid or volunteer capacity–is as challenging as it is rewarding.  It is easy to get discouraged in the face what are sometimes overwhelming financial needs of the organization and the effects of a slow economic recovery.   It is vital for stewardship leaders and those raising the funds for congregations and other organizations to maintain a strong internal commitment to the mission and values.  This means a good measure of self-care and centering on the part of the individual to sustain positive energy and momentum for the work.

As a stewardship leader, when I need to find my center, to focus my thoughts, or to solve a problem, my tendency is to seek out a body of water—a flowing river, a lake, the ocean—and let its power and natural beauty wash over me, inspire me and change me.

My annual pilgrimage is to Diana’s Baths in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The sounds of the flowing water are so loud they drown out the noises of the people who gather there.

The flow of the water down the mountainside is so powerful it has smoothed the stone surface, carving out the rounded “baths” in which you could sit (if you could stand the temperature!)

Years back I attended the Mountain School for Congregational Leadership in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.

Late one evening during the leadership school, all willing and able participants were loaded into vans and driven to an unnamed location for an annual ritual.  I was packed into the back seat of the van wondering when the long and somewhat nauseating drive on the winding back roads would ever end.

When we arrived at our destination, we were unloaded and gathered in the dark parking lot for instructions from our faculty leaders.

We were to line up, with our hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us or to link arms.

We were told to close our eyes, move slowly forward with the group, to remain silent, and feel for any signals to pause or slow down as we navigated down two dozen stone stairs and uneven slopes.

We had to trust our leaders, the only ones who knew where we were going and the only ones with flashlights, there in the pitch dark.

The pace was excruciatingly slow for me, for in front of me was a man with an old leg injury who really was at risk of falling.  This man usually used a cane to get around, but here in this line up, those of us around him were his support.

There were times when the line seemed to pause for minutes on end and with no explanation.  As we moved along the rough and invisible terrain, I was flooded with thoughts and emotions.  I was frustrated to the point I wanted to scream.

I was irritated and began thinking of how I might climb over those in front of me, grab the flashlight, and get things moving, since the leaders were obviously not able to keep it going.  There was a point when I seriously thought I needed to detach myself from this nightmare and fumble back to the van and wait in peace for the crowd to return.

The only things that held me in the line-up were

1) the man needing support in front of me,

2) my curiosity about the outcome, and

3) the sound of rushing water calling me onward.

Finally we were moving closer and closer to the thundering water.  I could feel the spray in the air around me. Then I felt the nudge and opened my eyes.

We were under a giant rock with an enormous waterfall flowing out in front of us—called Dry Falls.

It was awe-inspiring, with a force that generated its own light in the darkness.  Even if we were free to talk, we were speechless with wonder.

Finally the group began to move, and we walked back along the pathway in silence, eyes opened and forever changed by the experience we had shared.

That is the nature of leadership.  We are called to be like water, be a universal solvent.   We must cast the vision, inspire trust among the followers (though they may grumble), and lead people along the pathway that is often hard to navigate.

The solution is in the process of change and power in the transformation. Be like water; run deep, run clear; be a universal solvent.  May it be so.



May we be open to the experience of listening and exploring new ideas, to be a part of something much greater than ourselves, and by engaging in this caring community, be transformed.   Blessed Be.



The reading Be Like Water was published in a meditation manual How We Are Called published by Skinner House Books.  2003.  It is used with both the author’s and publisher’s permission.

Skinner House Books:

The Reverend Kendra Ford is the minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Exeter, NH:

The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center is located in the mountains of Western North Carolina: