How are you turning your agency’s weaknesses into strengths?


The Cracked Pot

By John Greco
Originally published on June 4, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog

chinese woman1A Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck.. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full..

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water..

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.

‘I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.’

The old woman smiled, ‘Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?’ ‘That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.’

For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”

[Author unknown, but greatly appreciated!  If you or anyone you know has a proprietary interest in this story please authenticate and I will be happy to credit, or remove, as appropriate.]


I used to have an old, decrepit picket fence along the property line behind my garage.  It was in disrepair.  As I went about working to remove it, I couldn’t bring myself to just throw all the pickets in the trash.

I used some of the pickets to hide my garbage can and recycling container staged on the side of the house.

Last year, I used most of the rest of the pickets to create an old, arbor-like, shabby-chic backdrop for my pond (see picture, right).  Looks like its been there a hundred years, but it’s perfect, for now, to support the cardinal vine that will hug it, twist and turn through it; and when in bloom, beckon the hummingbirds…

My wife and I have had a wicker table almost since we’ve been married (our 34 year anniversary was yesterday) and it also has deteriorated (the wicker table;  not the marriage!) to the point that it no longer can be depended on to safely serve as a table.  Last weekend, I cut the legs off, and placed the wicker top in a spot in the garden, with pea gravel under and around (see picture below).  I’ve still work to do to secure it, but it already has piqued some visual interest to the previously nondescript corner…

And now I’m pondering using the wicker table legs to intersperse among the pond edge bamboo stakes!

I have, as you might have surmised, a bit of a compulsion to reuse things.  To repurpose.  To extend the utility of the unique character of things that long have seen a better day.

The Chinese woman took a pot that didn’t quite work well for it’s intended purpose, and she made it work well for another — shall we say higher? — purpose.  It could not quench her thirst as much as it had before, but perhaps we can say that it is satisfying her thirst for something different.

But there is a cost.  Her labor is returning 25% less water for her and her family using that cracked pot.

And soon I will need to redo the picket screening around my garbage cans.

And the shabby chic picket back drop surely won’t last as long as a structure made from new wood would…

Utility, and return on investment — as beauty — is in the eye of the beholder.

The author of the story above gave the cracked pot the ability to voice its discouragement and shame over its lost capability.  I am realizing now that that storytelling technique gave the author the opportunity to have the Chinese woman talk to the cracked pot, pointing out the critical contribution the pot was playing in beautifying her path, and her home.

I imagine that cracked pot felt pretty good after hearing that…

I will be listening to my pickets; and I will be listening to my wicker table pieces-parts; and I will tell them how much I appreciate their new contribution; I will tell them how they are satisfying my thirst for something, well, different.

And I will leave it to you (at least for now) to make the more explicit connections of this story, and my story, to our real worlds — for they are many, and varied, and meaningful.

For we will all be — if we’re not already — cracked pots.
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About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on February 28, 2014, in nonprofit, organizational development and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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