Archives for posts with tag: annual fund

When my brother and I were very young and very bored, around ages seven and 10, we rummaged through our mother’s drab, gray cookbook, looking for something new to whip up.  We weren’t in the habit of cooking at that age; I think we viewed it as a science experiment of sorts. (The book may have once had a gaily printed paper cover, but in a house of six children and constant chaos, flimsy items like book covers didn’t last long.)

At any rate, we wanted to make something we’d never eaten before. After a careful inspection of the supplies on hand, we decided that the one recipe within our grasp was a creamy sort of onion soup. My memory of the soup’s taste is vaguely positive – I think it turned out well, and was certainly different from our family’s normal fare. What I do remember vividly, though, was our sense of adventure as we made it, the knowledge that we were creating something – to us – entirely new and different. And we did it! We succeeded!

That’s one of the reasons I think technology is good for philanthropy. It compels fundraisers to up their game, to think in ways that are unfamiliar, and to trigger the brain-based benefits created by unfamiliar thinking.

For instance, as a former member of a development staff for an art museum, I have seen how challenging it is to secure funding for that segment of the nonprofit industry – especially in a down economy. And here we have crowdfunding to the rescue! Well, sort of. Using web sites to attract large numbers of donors may be, as one of the folks in this article says, a permanent, more efficient way for artists and arts organizations to reach individual benefactors. Or it may be a flash in the pan. But it has people thinking in new ways, and that’s a good thing.

By the way, when I want to cook something I’ve never cooked before, I just page through this, my favorite cookbook and find something I’ve never made before. I guess some things don’t change.


Yesterday I made bread for the first time in years. I used the recipe from the bag of King Arthur Flour. I have never owned a bread machine, so I do it by hand. I was surprised at how sticky the dough was, how hard to knead, and then how gratified I was by the sight of it rising. The loaf turned out fat and brown, as well as I might have hoped, and it was gone in a few hours.

At the same time, I was also reading this post on about fundraising. Joanne Fritz outlines the “bread and butter” of fundraising, and that got me thinking about how deceptively simple the basics are. Bread is made of only a few ingredients – flour, yeast, liquid, and usually a pinch of salt. At the top of the “bread and butter” list on Fritz’s post is annual giving. Speaking as someone who’s spent most of her fundraising years in the annual fund, I’ll say that it often does feel like … well, the sliced white bread, compared to major gifts’ steak and sizzle.

To be fair to the major gift folks, their lives aren’t all glamour, as we learn from this Passionate Giving article. But annual giving – or recurring giving, as it’s increasingly becoming– really is the foundation of most healthy nonprofits. It gives nearly everyone the chance to buy an entry ticket as stakeholders of your mission. It gives your organization a chance to impress them with excellent stewardship, several times a year. It reveals and stewards future major donors and those who will leave bequests. It’s the bread and butter of your campaign.

Have you ever dined at an upscale restaurant, and been served stale, tasteless rolls alongside melted foil butter packets? How did that make you feel about the rest of the meal to come? If bread and butter are the first chance to impress someone, it’s worth your time to make it a quality experience.

Raw potatoes and burned hot dogs. Or maybe it was the other way around – burned potatoes and cold hot dogs. At any rate, it was a camping trip meal my kids will never let me forget. We were in the Franconia Notch State Park, and it was pouring rain. I had a camp stove I didn’t know how to use very well, and a poorly-made pan. Our supper that night was barely edible, to put it kindly.

If you’ve ever cooked under trying circumstances, with tools you didn’t know how to use or that didn’t work very well, you know what I mean.

Similarly, if you’ve ever tried to execute a fundraising strategy without a good, functional database, you face serious challenges.

“At a minimum, organizations should have good demographic data on who they serve,” says  Isaac D. Castillo , one of the speakers in a recent (and interesting) chat with the Chronicle of Philanthropy about using data to boost fundraising. Later in the same chat, his colleague Andrew Niklaus mentions that, with fundraising software, you get what you pay for. As with any tool, this is also true.

In my experience, too many nonprofit organizations don’t even have basic demographic data, and if they do, it’s not in a program that allows you to access it easily. I once worked with a program that required manual entry of a series of date ranges and other data, and would only print – not display – the one resulting data point, using three sheets of paper each time. It was like trying to cook in the rain, with a dimestore aluminum pan.

What are your experiences with the tools and technology you need to do your job?

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?

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.

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