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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Nurturing Generosity in Children


The future of society may depend on our ability to make sure our children have the capability for empathy and the inclination toward generosity.

~Patricia O. Bjorhovde




Religious teachings have been highly influential in the development of philanthropic culture and giving practices around the world. Throughout American history, religious philanthropy has prompted social change by addressing the major issues and ills facing society of the times.

Congregations and faith communities fill an important role in today’s society by providing the worship and learning environments to convey the virtues and values of generosity, giving, stewardship and volunteer service. These communities provide a set of religious values and theological teachings to which young learners can link and reflect upon their daily lives. This is part of a our faith formation process as human beings, continuing throughout our lifetimes.

There are three key ways that children learn about generosity and stewardship:

  • Modeled voluntary behavior by a parent or trusted care-giver with the intention to help others. This begins in infancy, through the infant’s experience of caring and sharing which leads to the development of empathy.
  • Cognitive learning opportunities that include thinking, reflection, and discussion on the part of the learner. These stimulate understanding of the cause and effect of giving behavior.
  • Experiential “learning by doing” on the part of the learner—opportunities to engage in giving and serving activities from which they can draw emotional satisfaction and meaning.

How is this done?  Through an intentional educational process that includes:

  • Presenting the concepts and stories that promote understanding of giving, generosity, and stewardship in the life of a community.
  • Identifying the reasons why people choose to give and practicing generosity, and the methods for stewardship and the careful tending of resources.
  • Providing the experiences and opportunities for individual and communal reflection.

Nathan Dungan, former financial advisor, marketing VP, author and creator of the Share, Save, Spend system for personal finance suggests that the marketing message directed at our children is “see money, spend money,” with the emphasis on the micro impact  of satisfying their own needs. They rarely get the macro impact message that balances their spending with saving and sharing in intentional ways:  “the choices we make with our money can change the world.”

There are a variety of helpful materials to help parents and educators create learning experiences and activities that nurture generosity and stewardship in their children and teenage youth. Games and stories, combined with experiential activities to learn these values by doing, are particularly effective teaching tools. The Stewardship Game and links to online resources below offer a starting place for engaging this learning process.





Laurel Amabile, CFRE

Giving Speaks




Lodestone Year: Money Unit–Magnetize your Middle School  curriculum by Katie Covey focusing on ways to provide fun and as well as deep teachable moments. The Money Unit focuses on the value of conversations about money as an important part of understanding the control and power of money. With this understanding, commercialism is kept in perspective and money is used as a reflection of one’s values.

Stewardship Game for Unitarian Universalist Children & Youth created by Dr. Bobbie Poole, Credentialed Religious Educator, Master Level (shared with her permission). email:




Tapestry of Faith the Unitarian Universalist Association’s online curriculum series, particularly the Moral Tales for children and Virtue Ethics for youth. and

Learning To Give features learning and teaching resources to use for all ages, with focused materials for school educators and religious educators.

Share, Save, Spend founded by Nathan Dungan / The website features articles, tips, and resources for all ages, particularly useful for parents, educators, and organizations.

National Center for Family Philanthropy 

Bjorhovde, Patricia O., Editor.  Creating Tomorrow’s Philanthropists:  Curriculum Development for Youth New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, #36, Summer 2002, Jossey-Bass Nonprofit and Public Management Series, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Developmental Stages of Generosity

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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