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Magic Questions to Encourage Creativity

By May 29, 2013April 25th, 2014Nonprofits

One of the biggest complaints I encounter with fundraising staff is they wish others, especially the board, would come up with ideas that can actually be implemented.

Ideas that that organization can actually afford to act on.

Ideas the board members will participate in.

In a short read from Paul Sloane he explains that “the easiest way to crush creativity is to find fault with new ideas which colleagues and subordinates bring forward…All it takes for a few crazy ideas to be shot down and people stop volunteering them.”


We want our board members and volunteers and even our colleagues to bring us their brilliant ideas, right? But we actually want those ideas to be based in some reality of cost and capacity.

Here’s a simple and magical sentence to insert into the conversation when you encounter one of those half-formed, “great” new ideas:
“That sounds interesting; how can we make it work?”

Then, as Paul Sloane says, “let them talk.”

After more than 13 years of coaching I suggest adding some additional questions to the conversation. 

As staff your job is to cause the idea generators to think about costs and capacity with questions like:

    • “Who will be the/my board partner to ensure this project gets accomplished?”
    • “What might the costs be associated with this idea/project?”
    • “Let’s take a moment and figure out what will have to be removed from the current staff workload if we take on this new project/idea.”

With my coaching hat on, I often ask questions like these of both staff and board members.

I watch the conversation unfold but I help to keep the conversation based in some reality. And then let the group find their way, within the time constraints of a meeting or training session.

More often than not, the outcome is better than I would have imagined and the group leaves more engaged. Most importantly real decisions are made quickly about “new” ideas so everyone can get to work doing what they agreed to do.

What questions do you use with your team to allow creativity AND actionable ideas?


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