Stone Soup— a story of engagement

Joan M. Renner, CPA, CGMA, Director 501(c)(fit!)

After Thanksgiving, I always make soup–which reminded me of this old story. 

Long ago, three soldiers walked through the countryside, making their way home.  Without food or money, they camped by the side of the road.  They gleaned what they could from the fields they passed, but the harvest was done and the fields were bare.   After several days, they approached a small village.  The two younger soldiers took heart, looking forward to the good meal the villagers would surely provide.  The more experienced soldier, however, told them to slow down and let him do the talking. 

Seeing the soldiers approach, the villagers hid their valuables and locked their doors.  Wary of strangers, the villagers peeked out their shutters, hoping the soldiers would just pass through.  But what the villagers saw next led them to open their doors to listen.

The experienced soldier positioned himself in the empty village square and loudly announced that tonight this village would experience a special feast; a fine soup made from stones!  Of course they would need a kettle.

Soup made from stones was too good to resist.  The blacksmith brought out a large kettle of water and the soldiers built a fire, placing three round stones in the bottom of the pot.

As the water heated, the soldier stirred the pot, inhaling the rising steam.  The village men watched with interest.  Of course, the soup would be tastier if only we had some cabbage.  Knowing he could help, the cooper ran to his cottage and returned with two leafy green cabbages.

Slicing the cabbage into the pot, the soldier again inhaled the rising steam.  The village women joined the crowd with fascination.  Our stone soup is beginning to bubble.  Of course it would be thicker if only we had a few potatoes.  Agreeing with this, the miller’s wife ran back to her cottage and returned with her apron filled with round white potatoes.      

Scrubbing the potatoes, the soldier again stirred the pot, inhaling the aroma of their wonderful stone soup.  If only we had a few carrots and even a little bacon, our stone soup would be perfect.  By this time, the villagers could almost taste how delicious the stone soup would be.  Soon, a bright bunch of carrots appeared followed by a good chunk of bacon.  Other villagers brought out tables and chairs and prepared for a feast.

Finally, the soldier fished out the three round stones and announced that the soup was ready.  The entire village shared a hearty meal, and laughed and talked into the night.  The next morning, they bid the soldiers farewell, sending them on their way with three red apples and a hunk of cheese.

By now you’ve realized that this old story is a great model for nonprofit engagement.  The clever soldier knew they wouldn’t get a handout.  The villagers were almost as poor as the soldiers, and they had their own families to care for.  But creatively, the soldier inspired everyone to see a larger vision.  Bit by bit, he engaged the villagers to see what they could all create by working together.  With this shared vision, the villagers were willing to contribute a little of what they had to make the outcome even better.  Everyone was inspired to share, and everyone benefitted.

What can we learn?

Lead with your vision.  Others who share your vision of what your organization intends to accomplish will support you.  Develop descriptions of your vision that you can use to inspire others.  Share stories about your successful outcomes.  Equip your board members to be advocates for your mission.  Create opportunities for your leaders to see your programs in action, and take pride in the results.

Engage a team.  Everyone involved in your leadership has their own set of gifts.  The more people you can involve in moving your mission forward, the more gifts you will receive.  Engage your nominating committee to assess the skills you need on your board.  Recruit a diverse board with a variety of competencies, from a variety of backgrounds, having a variety of contacts.

Share the work and share the credit.  Many hands make light work.  Be sure that every Board member is involved in something.  Participating on a committee helps Board members make a difference, which keeps them engaged with your organization. 

We have a helpful session on Board Governance for nonprofit emerging leaders called Nonprofit Governance; who’s in charge, who’s responsible and who’s watching? in our live two-day seminar, Financial Leadership Training for Emerging Nonprofit Professionals.

We’ve also got some helpful governance information in a session called Navigating Nonprofit Growth—There Once Was A Little Nonprofit.  It’s part of our next-level seminar, Raising the Bar—Preparing for Higher Expectations, offering more financial leadership training topics for emerging nonprofit professionals. 

Get more FIT! TIPS.  Join our 501(c)(fit!) community. 

© 2018 501(c)(fit!) All Rights Reserved.