My grandparents’ bedspread was lavender, with ruffles. I remember sitting on it with a plate full of food, along with some of my six siblings and 18 cousins, during Thanksgiving gatherings at their tiny lakeside cottage in upstate New York.

Today, the idea of a half-dozen young children eating their Thanksgiving dinner on someone’s bed seems rather horrifying.  I don’t remember any, but I’m sure there were mishaps. I also don’t recall any adult anxiety over the situation. I do remember eating until I was full, and having fun. I’m the oldest of 24 grandchildren on my mother’s side, and big family gatherings were just the way of our tribe. An actual seat – at an actual table – was something reserved for the eldest, most venerated members.

I’ve been thinking of those Thanksgivings in light of a recent column I read, but can’t now find, about there being too many nonprofits in my state, New Hampshire. Of course, there’s been a  national debate  that there are too many nonprofits for quite some time. Most argue that there is too little funding for too many organizations.

I’ve worked for newborn nonprofits cooked up by a group of volunteers on a shoestring, and I’ve worked for nonprofits that have enjoyed more than a century of service and a comfy budget to match. Both of their missions are, I think, critical to the quality of life we enjoy.

A few high-profile nonprofit mergers have happened, but I don’t think it’s a real trend, nor do I think it’s the right answer for the perceived problem of too many mouths to feed (so to speak). My state government is looking at ways to (maybe) discourage the number of nonprofits here, but I don’t think that’s right, either. In my experience, nobody creates a nonprofit lightly – they create them to fill a critical need, or to realize a deeply held dream, or both.

I know funding is difficult to secure, especially for operations. But – and maybe it’s due to my upbringing – I can’t help but think that if a new nonprofit shows up to dinner, we can find a way to fill a plate for them – even if they have to eat it on the lavender bedspread.

The best dish I ever had at a dinner party was my friend’s ex-girlfriend’s adaptation of a chickpea curry. (This isn’t a picture of that, it’s a picture of a rustic apricot tart I made last summer. Don’t ask.) Most people like dinner parties. Even introverts like me enjoy good company, and if the food is well-made and the drinks delicious and the music interesting and the setting pleasant, there’s almost nothing better.

Dinner parties make people feel good. Maybe that’s why so many nonprofit leaders believe special events are a great way to plump up the bank account. Events are an easy sell, to the board and to the public. Staffers like to pitch in. Adrenaline pumps. Sometimes, the media calls. Fun is had.

The only thing that suffers is the organization’s account balance. Because, here’s a secret – studies show events are not a good way to raise money. This data from 2007 shows that it costs more than a dollar to raise a dollar. I’m no business major, but to me, this doesn’t add up to a great return on investment.

In this 2010 post, nonprofit consultant Susan McLaughlin asks, can you afford another special event?

Think about it this way. If you’re having trouble paying the heating bill, are you going to throw a roast in the oven, stock up on Bordeaux, and invite three other couples over? Well, maybe. But if your goal for the evening was to end up with more food than you started with, you’re better off saving your energy and eating cereal alone for dinner.

I believe nonprofits should have special events (just as folks on a budget should have dinner parties). But these need to happen for the right reasons, and in addition to – not instead of – other efforts at shoring up the bank balance. There’s nothing like an event to raise your profile and make people feel warm and fuzzy about your mission.  There are so many ways to leverage the good feelings that come from a successful soiree.

So, go ahead and plan your dinner parties for 2012. Just be sure you’re doing it for all the right reasons. And message me if you want that chickpea curry recipe.

I use food to encourage my grown son to visit. Recently, we needed to go over some insurance paperwork, so I sweetened the deal by making a Shepherd’s Pie. The last time I made this dish, I mistakenly used applesauce instead of gravy, and I was determined not to mess it up this time.

I browned lean ground bison. I chopped the onions, carrots and celery to just the right bite-size. I made the crust from locally-grown potatoes mashed with heavy cream and unsalted butter. When the smell filled the kitchen and the filling bubbled below the mashed-potato crust, I took it out of the oven and set it on the table. My son sat down, serving spoon in hand — and we heard a loud crack. The glass casserole dish, inexplicably, imploded.

My husband found us debating whether we could spoon some of the pie from the middle of the dish, without getting any glass in it. It sounds insane to write it now, but at the time, my son and I were both so invested in the perfection of the meal that we were briefly willing to consider the risk of eating broken glass.  In the end, we carefully disposed of the whole mess and went out for Chinese food.

We are lucky to have the cash and a restaurant nearby. For many families, the loss of the evening meal would have meant going to bed hungry.

And so it is in the nonprofit world – those with reserves and access to resources are able to survive the occasional disaster. A few years ago, when the stock market took a dive and Dartmouth College’s endowment fell 23 percent, the institution tightened its belt, but is stronger today than ever.

Of course, very few schools are like Dartmouth – more are like the “colleges in the middle” described in last year’s Chronicle of Higher Education. Not every nonprofit has the ability to bounce back from hardships — even if they do everything right. So much is out of our control.

As we begin another new year, think about how your institution would bounce back from disaster. Do you have enough reserves to keep delivering on your mission? Do you have access to resources that will help you realize your vision? Or will you be looking at a spoonful of ruined supper, wondering if you can risk a bit of broken glass?

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.

Not only is my head is spinning with last-minute holiday obligations, but it’s filled with thoughts of what this time of year means. After reading more about the winter solstice, I’ve been ruminating about the immense good fortune most of us have to be living in such abundance.  For centuries, January through April were traditionally famine months in temperate climates like mine. This reminds me of how very new – and maybe fragile – our current food storage and distribution systems are.

At the same time, I came across the best fundraising blog ever, Nell Edgington’s Social Velocity – and her reference to nonprofits’ “starvation cycle.” This term is new to me but it’s been around for some time – the article I’ve linked to is from 2009. In a nutshell, funding overhead is not sexy, but it is necessary.  I think the same applies to the issue of human hunger. And again, I feel lucky.

In her latest post, Edginton refers to “the nonprofit sector’s proclivity to endlessly beat around the bush, tell donors what they want to hear, and sugar-coat the truth.” This is something I addressed in my second blog post.  I think it will be a perennial problem for fundraising communications.

I’ll leave you with the best recipes ever for chocolate bark – I’ve kitchen-tested these myself with thrilling results. Now, I’m off to my errands and make a gift to my local food bank.

Happy holidays!

This time of year, lists get a lot of attention – but I use lists all year long. I have to-do lists, annual goals lists, holiday shopping lists, clothing shopping lists and – of course – grocery lists. This is a photo of one of my grocery shopping lists. People tend to react to it with either admiration or amusement.

I don’t care. My list makes me a better shopper. If I go without a list I inevitably buy things I don’t want or need, and I forget things I do need. If I’m planning a special meal or having guests, I use the white space on the lists to jot down other important things. I also have more general categories, like “other vegetables” to remind myself to take advantage of items that happen to be in season or on sale.

Just like I don’t shop without a list, I don’t like to do fundraising without a plan. If I do fundraising without a plan, I sometimes lose track of the mission. The difference between priorities – think eggs and milk – and distractions – think checkout candy — is covered nicely in a recent article on the Association of Fundraising Professionals website.

Without a plan, I might attend a social media webinar and think, wow! I need to do some Facebook ads right now. And without a plan, I might squander an entire day learning about Facebook advertising, putting a random ad together, and obsessively checking the ad click-through statistics.

On the other hand, if I have a plan, I can see that the end-of-year appeal will be going out soon. We may be a little under budget on that, so we can take some of that money and use it to advertise on Facebook. We’re interested in targeting donors in the 25-35-year age range, and Facebook ads let us do that. I’m going to slot it into the plan. Now it clearly serves my mission.

Like a good plan, lists are useful only if they are flexible. How does your fundraising work? Do you make a plan and stick to it? Do you find lists helpful?