Growing up as the oldest of six kids in the 1970s, I mixed a lot of Kool-Aid — but never well. If I used the full cup specified by the instructions on the packet, it tasted too sweet. If I lowered the amount of sugar by any amount, it tasted sour. It’s a skill I never mastered.

Last week, at an event for Boston-area Syracuse University Alumni, my husband and I were listening to NFL Hall of Famer Floyd Little talk about our alma mater. Mr. Little is an engaging, exciting speaker. At the time, all I could think of was, “We’re drinking the Kool-Aid.”

It’s a frothy-sounding expression with a rather grim origin in the Jonestown Massacre; I hear it all the time in business circles. This post by Steve Tobak refers to the President serving metaphorical Kool-Aid regarding the unemployment rate.  A fundraising colleague once said she didn’t mind the oft-puzzling bureaucracy at our institution because she “drank the Kool-Aid.” She simply loved the place, no matter what. It’s a handy but dark way to describe blind faith.

What does it all mean for fundraisers? Should we want our donors to “drink the Kool-Aid” and support our institutions, our missions, blindly and unquestioningly? Or, in this age of digital transparency, is that still possible? Does “drinking the Kool-Aid” even have a place in donor-centered fundraising?

As a fundraiser who has worked mostly in higher ed, I believe the ideal donor is educated and aware of the good AND the bad – of the high salaries college presidents make,  of the scandals in college sports – and chooses to give anyway. It’s the only way to maintain a robust development program over time.

Besides, I could never make good Kool-Aid.

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