Archives for posts with tag: communcation

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.com 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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

I like to cook with “real” ingredients, don’t you? While I appreciate that some of us react negatively to sugar or wheat or animal fats, there’s nothing like the taste of real sugar, flour and butter.

In the same way, preparing fund raising communications works best when we have real, fresh, and local ingredients to work with.

I’ll explain. Last week I did a presentation (for AFP-NNE and CONFR) on working with creative people.  While I have more than two decades of experience working with other writers, graphic designers, web folk, and the like, I wanted to share what I’d learned with fund raising professionals who might not have had that type of experience. I also solicited advice from creative colleagues, and one writer’s answer reminded me of one of the chief difficulties of our work.

She spoke of the challenge – in a solicitation piece – of making the need concrete. I couldn’t agree more.

So much of the time, those of us in development are tasked with raising money for basic operations. These are worthy, indeed, but don’t tend to make compelling copy. Donors want to make a difference, and they want to make a specific difference unique to your mission.

Donors don’t often get excited about keeping the lights on, or the parking lots clear of snow, so we end up with language that dances around that. We ask for dollars “where they’re needed most.” It’s an unsatisfactory substitute, and it can leave an unsatisfactory taste in the mouth.

I’ve attended fund raising workshops in which were advised to find out exactly what charitable gifts were spent on, and to report that back to the donors when thanking them, and when asking for new gifts. If you follow such fund raising gurus as Penelope Burke and Bob Burdenski, you’ll see it’s a key foundation of good development practice.

Why, then, do so few of us practice it? Why do so many of us continue to settle for saccharine substitutes?