Archives for category: writing

I want to talk about dinner parties again, as a metaphor for nonprofit special events. I can’t pretend to be an expert, because I’ve only given a few, and my home is not what you’d call glamorous. (I think “rustic” is putting it kindly.) But I like to think that people can still have as great an experience dining in my rustic abode as they would in a marbled Newport Mansion.

And if we are to listen thoughtfully to editor Jan Masaoka at the indispensible nonprofit newsletter Blue Avocado, we agree nonprofits are all different. In her example, there’s Target, and there’s Williams-Sonoma. Both succeed, but with very different strategies. It’s most important that your nonprofit’s special event is aligned with your mission. (Some great examples can be found at Livestrong,  whose partnered events range from an actual and virtual chance to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro to a fashion show. )

Which brings me back to dinner parties, and the guest list. Who do you invite? Who do you want at the table?  According to my food-writing hero, MFK Fisher, the perfect guest list consists of one long-married couple, one somewhat newly-married couple, and a couple who should be married but doesn’t realize it.

How to use that in deciding on an invitation list for a nonprofit event? Start with dedicated supporters, always. They are the long-married couples of your dinner party. (If you check out Livestrong’s annual golf tournament, you’ll notice it’s been hosted by longtime supporters.)  Add some newlyweds – these would be new donors who have recently come on board, and deserve special attention. Finally, some great prospects — those who should be supporting your mission, but don’t yet realize it.

Finally, for sheer pleasure, I’ll end with this lovely, MFK Fisher-esque musing on dinner parties from one of my favorite style bloggers at Privilege.

I love, love, love a glass of red wine at the end of the day. But I’m skipping alcohol for the month of January.  This practice, sometimes called “drynuary” or (shudder ) “janopause” has had some negative press lately. They say stopping drinking and then starting again can be a shock to the liver.

I’m certainly not going to engage in “catch-up” drinking for the rest of the year, as the study suggests some people do. Sometimes I abstain from alcohol in the summer months too. But In February, I will go back to my nightly glass of Malbec with a heightened sense of appreciation.

In addition to savoring wine more after a dry spell, I like to take a drinking break because it’s part of a nightly ritual that can make me feel unproductive. We all need downtime, and I’m often too spent at the end of any day to do much more than cook something and plop down in front of the television with a glass of wine.

So maybe this month I plop down in front of the television with a cup of tea instead, but maybe not. Maybe I’ll have the mental energy to fool around with some of the art supplies I got for Christmas, or work on a little writing, or do some reading, and let the television sit silently in its corner.

I think this is a brilliant blog post by Michael Gass, in which he includes not watching television during the week in his “not to do” list.

What would be on your “not to do” list?

A few weeks ago I made a shepherd’s pie for a potluck supper. (It wasn’t Alton Brown’s recipe, but I’m a fan of his, so that’s what I’ve linked to here.)

I wanted to use the leftover gravy from a pot roast I’d cooked earlier that week, so I rummaged in my fridge until I found a container of brown, viscous stuff and poured it in. As it blended with the meat and vegetables, I noticed that the texture was a little grainy, but I didn’t think twice about it.

I didn’t think twice because I was in that white heat mode of hurry, ticking off task after task, my internal engine revving as if I had downed six cups of coffee. This I s a feeling I’ve had all too often in the fundraising office, and one that fellow blogger Janet Levine rants about here.

Later, at dinner, my husband commented that there was a sweet taste to the dish he didn’t recognize. I’d eaten a scoop myself but was so distracted by the conversation that my eating was not as, well, mindful as we’re told it should be.

I tried some of the pie again; he was right. And then I realized that in my hurry, instead of mixing the filling with gravy, I’d mixed it with the applesauce I’d made wth the last of the bag of utility apples from the orchard up the road.

None of my friends mentioned that my food tasted funny. It did, eventually, get eaten. It was … okay. But I know that if I’d taken the time to do it right, the casserole would have been a whole lot better. Next time I’m faced with competing priorities, I’ll remember my inadvertent, applesauce shepherd’s pie.

Here’s my confession; I think Thanksgiving food is boring. I love to cook and I love to host, but that holiday menu is so, well, dull. Every item is pretty much its own thing. Turkey. Potatoes. Squash. Snooze.

As an annual fundraiser, I have felt the same way about solicitation methods. Phone.  Mail.  Email.  Egads. Taken singly, they are enjoyable, but not exciting. For me, the fun begins when I can think of ways to combine two or more of these ingredients into a tastier concoction. I’m pretty sure this is what they mean by multichannel marketing. Or, more specifically to fundraising, integrated solicitations.

When I host Thanksgiving, I know better than to mess with tradition. For example, I wouldn’t dream of putting wasabi in the mashed potatoes (which is something I’ve been seeing at local eateries.) Similarly, when I’m communicating with a group of donors, I understand that some are traditionalists. They like to make their one gift in December, and they like to give via the response mechanism in their annual solicitation letter.

And yet – don’t get me wrong, I enjoy eating the traditional meal as much as the next person – I am never as happy as when it’s time to be creative with the leftovers. Turkey sandwiches with slices of stuffing and a dollop of cranberry sauce are classic. So is the post-holiday pot pie. There are wonderful recipes for post-Thanksgiving turkey soup. For years, I didn’t know what to do with all that leftover squash, but then I found this delicious casserole.

In the same way, other donors respond to a mix of messages and methods.

These donors might like an email spiced with news about a favorite program, layered with links to giving opportunities and topped off with a fun holiday animation. They might like a phone call that wraps a personal thank-you around a meaty update on how their gift has helped, followed up by a mailed note. They could find themselves sampling a planned giving website that was served up as a link in a letter.

I’m all for keeping the meat and potatoes going strong, but I think the future in fundraising might lie in more flavorful combinations. What do you think?

Making Turkey Soup

Striped Bass

As a fund raiser working with limited resources, I’ve often found it easy to make decisions based on the old saying “fish where the fish are.” In other words, if my organization has 30,000 prospects but only enough resources to solicit 10,000, I will plan to solicit the 10,000 that have previously given to our institution.

Last week, I was lucky enough to literally go fishing, off the coast of New Jersey, with this charter company.  It was a new experience for me, and I was fascinated as the captain and the mate kept checking the sonar. We’d stop whenever we were above a large school of fish, and drop our lines, jigging along the bottom to tempt the striped bass.

It was a clear and cold run out to the fishing grounds, and we had spectacular luck. We caught our limit of bass in about an hour, and spent the rest of the morning zig-zagging along the shore, catching and releasing more bass, shark, and bluefish.

But at some point, about 10 a.m., the fish stopped biting. All of them.  Our guides said it often happens and they didn’t exactly understand why. Even the most seasoned outdoorspeople admit that they can’t do anything when the fish don’t bite. The sonar showed we were sitting on top of what they called a “pig pile” of bass, and yet not one of them responded to our lures.

I think it’s helpful to remember this can happen in fund raising, too. Sometimes we are appealing to the right prospects, but for some reason, they don’t respond. There could be any number of reasons, but they’re all beyond our control. You can do everything right — use the best technology to sort out our seas of data, hone the most alluring message to a sharp point – but none of it matters if the fish just aren’t biting.

The only thing to do is to refresh our dedication to our missions and try, try again. Is that how you cope?