Lolly Colombo

QUICK SHOT: How “Stone Soup” Has A LOT to Say About Nonprofit Fundraising

By Lolly Colombo, Executive Vice President Client Services

My favorite folk tale, without a doubt, is “Stone Soup”; and curiously it has come up 3 times in the last few months in unexpected contexts. Does that ever happen to you?  Random things coming up in spades for no apparent reason? I decided I needed to write about “Stone Soup”… and as I did, the connections to our work of nonprofit fundraising and releasing generosity popped up over and over!  

You remember the story… and even if you don’t, you’ll probably find it familiar once I begin telling it. There are many versions since its earliest possible telling back in 1548. But here is my telling of “Stone Soup”… 

Once upon a time, there was a great famine, and country folk believed they needed to hide away their food to endure. A lone traveler – in early versions, a hobo, a vagabond and in our modern terminology, a homeless man – wandered into a village, asking for a meal and carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot on his back.

None of the villagers were willing to share their food with the hungry traveler. So, he walked down to the stream and filled his pot with water, dropped a river stone in it, and placed it over a fire in the middle of the village square. 

Shortly, one of the villagers became curious and asked what the man was doing. He simply smiled and answered, “I am making stone soup – which tastes wonderful, and I would be delighted to share it with you!” He dipped in his ladle and took a sip… then said, “Although it still needs a bit of garnish to improve the flavor.”

The villager, who became excited about enjoying a share of the soup, didn’t mind parting with a few carrots. And so… carrots were added to the soup pot. 

Soon, another villager walked by, inquiring about the pot, and the traveler again mentioned how the soup had not quite reached its full potential. The villager ran off and came swiftly back with a bit of herbs from her garden – and into the pot they went. 

Another villager contributed potatoes. 

Another, onions. 

Another, cabbage. 

Another, peas. 

Another, celery.  

Another, a bright red tomato.  

Another, three ears of corn. 

Another, milk from her cow. 

And another, a bit of meat from a brine jar in his cellar.  

Three more village women brought fresh loaves of rye bread. Another, freshly churned butter. More and more villagers walked by, each adding another ingredient. The town square was teaming with joy and expectation. 

Finally, the stone was ladled out from the pot and set to one side, and the lonely traveler sat down with the entire village; and together, they enjoyed fellowship and a pot of steamy, wonderful soup.

As a little girl, when I first heard the story, I was tickled by the outcome. (As I am told, I used to put little stones I’d find in the street together – so they wouldn’t be lonely.) As a fundraiser today, I smile when I hear this story. “Stone Soup” revolves around an ingenious man with a compelling story who encouraged people to help him when their first sense was to not.

The fundraising connection is clear! As we extend our messaging to new audiences, in search of new donors, we encounter folks who are reserved or hesitant about giving. I hesitate to call any donor “small,” but smaller donors may feel that what they have to give won’t make a difference. Major donors look for organizations with broad community support, organizations with solid stakeholders, where their large gifts will have the most impact. 

Our job in development is to share the story of what a donor’s generosity will accomplish. Smaller donors look for the immediate return on investment (ROI) of providing a meal or a night of safe shelter. Meanwhile, major donors are looking for return on mission (ROM), purpose and the empowerment of those to whom they are ultimately giving.  

Our Stone Soup is the promise of that outcome: Our messaging to these audiences must leverage a bit of curiosity, storytelling and inspiration, speaking to how enticing that soup could be… and how without their participation, there might not be any soup at all. 

(OK, enough about soup already. I trust you are following along with me and humoring me as we go!) 

The goal is the right message, through the right channel, to the right donor, at the right time. And, when it comes to major donors, it may be a question of the right messenger too! 

  • The traveller in the story was insightful, visionary, proactive, charismatic, engaging, patient and persevering. 
  • He clearly and invitingly delivered his case for support.  
  • He spoke to the opportunity of an irresistible outcome – not once about the donations themselves.  
  • Heartfelt and voluntary giving flowed as a consequence. 

This fundraiser released generosity by clearly inviting donors to engage AND to share in the joy of the impact.

The bottom line… sharing with donors how pivotal their level of assistance might be in the overall strategic framework of the organization’s vision and mission is critical to successfully engaging them as long-term partners. It’s about the value proposition – about knowing they are bringing measurable value to the causes they support. And at the end of the day… it’s about a wonderful outcome everyone shares together. 

  • Lolly Colombo, Exec VP Client Services

    Lolly Colombo, Chief Client Officer

    With over 30 years of program and agency experience, Lolly Colombo has brought her passion, expertise and heart of service to some of the world’s most beloved charities and faith-based organizations. She has had the pleasure of serving with Food for the Hungry, The Christian Broadcasting Network, Operation Blessing International,TBN, In Touch Ministries, The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, The Salvation Army, Gospel Rescue Missions and others.

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