Sharing Passion: The Journey from Fear to Bold Asking™ (Part 2)


(Part 2 in an 8-part series of topics to contemplate in major gift fundraising.  This series of blogs is designed for boards, CEOs and advancement staff training.) 

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I recently met a young woman in Greece who had started a successful activity and tourism business (Grecopaths) after the economic crises devastated Greece in 2008. I was fortunate to spend the day biking, hiking and kayaking with her and my husband. Like many young people, she was left with few resources after 2008 and virtually no work.  Today, her business is thriving with several business partners.  She had gone from a struggling desk job to riding bikes and hiking with guests through the breath-taking vistas of her homeland. 


Her enthusiasm was contagious. It helped propel us and our bikes to countless hilltops.  Midway through this exhilarating day, I asked Stavroula what led her to create this thriving new business. 

“Passion” she said.  “I thought about what I was most passionate about and how I could share it with others.”  She connected with her passion and has overcome great odds.  That passion created a livelihood for other people.  It is also connecting her to people throughout the world who share her passion.  And, it has even led to the creation of a foundation to support her country’s environment and its much needed tourism.

Many of us have trouble talking about what we’re passionate about.  But not Stavroula. A while back, I asked a philanthropist, well-known for her fundraising prowess, how she became so effective in persuading others to support causes she believed in.  “Passion” she said. “I realized when I believed deeply in a project and was passionate about it, I just got over any fears, because I wanted these projects to succeed."

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
— — Howard Thurman, Author and Philosopher

No matter your role—whether CEO, board member or development staff—passion and a deep belief in your organization is essential to successful, transformative philanthropy.  Passion also gets you over the hump of day to day challenges.  But, too often, in the press of our daily work, passion may get lost in translation.

I’ve learned that many people worry about the best ways to effectively share their passion for a cause or organization.  Certainly, authenticity is first and foremost in conveying passion. 

Personal stories that demonstrate the organization’s impact and vision go a long way in connecting to the heart.  But, the story-teller must speak from an authentic and genuine place in his or her heart, otherwise the message will fall flat.  Speaking from the heart requires some vulnerability.  So, it’s helpful for everyone—CEO, board member and staff alike—to become comfortable with authentically sharing their passion for their cause.  Some facts and figures are helpful.  But, never forget: personal stories that convey deep and personal passion and are spoken from the heart have the power to move your prospective partner to transformative places.

Sharing your passion, inviting questions and carefully listening to the person you are connecting with, is the first step in making the Bold Ask—the case for support.

I recently began a board retreat by asking a simple question:  Why are you passionate about this organization?  Each participant was asked to share a few thoughts.  The heartfelt stories that came spilling out were moving! We learned a lot about each other.  We identified shared motivations and developed deeper, more meaningful connections to each other.  True, this exercise required all the participants —board members, staff and the CEO alike— to be forthright, to trust one another and be vulnerable.  In fact, the conversation went on far longer than anticipated, and the results since then have been remarkable.

Toolkit II:  Sharing Passion -  Tips for Board Members, CEOs and Advancement Staff

Invite all of the team, at an appropriate time, to participate in this exercise.  The questions can easily be divided and posed at various times over the course of staff meetings, retreats or other gatherings.


1. Why are you passionate about this organization?  Can you write down five or more answers that describe your personal experience with the cause or organization, your family experience(s), your personal connections to the people or your personal goals that connect you to the organization and its mission.

2. Can you tell a deeply personal story about your connection to the organization?  Why do you feel connected to it?  Take a minute to briefly write it down.  What did you learn about yourself in writing your story?

3. Can you tell a story about someone who has been deeply affected by this organization and its mission? How has his or her life been impacted? Take a minute to briefly describe this person's story and write it down.  Are there similarities between your personal story and others affected by the organization or institution?  What do you share in common?

4. Describe your confidence and belief in the people who lead or work for this organization.  What is special about them? Can you describe their attributes and perhaps your shared vision, commitment and passion for the organization?  Testimonials about belief in the people who carry out the organization’s mission are influential and powerful.  

5. Now, look back over your answers to these questions.  How many of them include data points?  Data points are not central to telling a powerful story about passion, but they can be persuasive too for demonstrating profound impact.  What are the organization’s or the project’s most persuasive data points that are important to making your case for impact?  Data should not overwhelm but can augment your personal story about your passion for an organization and its work.  As a group, identify the most profound data that can augment personal stories and convey broad impact.

Next in the series, Part 3:  Telling Your Story – The Road to Happiness

Bold Asking™ is an innovative training program in high-impact, major gift philanthropy designed for board, CEOs and advancement staff.  In Bold Asking™ we explore this and many other topics essential to creating high performing philanthropy partnerships and programs For more information about Bold Asking™ workshops, please contact

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About the author:  Susan Holt is the founder and president of Vision Philanthropy Group, a full-service philanthropy and fundraising communications consulting firm specializing in health care, biomedical sciences and education philanthropy.  Susan has partnered with others in creating gifts ranging from $1M to $250M and has been the architect of multi-million and billion+ campaigns.

VPG is based in Nashville, TN.

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