Archives for posts with tag: donors

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.


March presented me with some serious challenges in time management, and I’ve had to take some time off weekly posts to attend to more pressing matters. But I’m back! And I want to talk about pyramids.

Not only are pyramids fascinating from a historical point of view, they offer a handy way to illustrate important concepts in today’s world. Most of us grow up with constant exposure to the food pyramid. Fundraisers all know about the donor pyramid. These two have a lot in common.

For example, in the food pyramid, the base is made of the most frequent foods we’re supposed to eat –grain-based edibles like rice, pasta, and bread. Next up are the fruits and vegetables, then meat and dairy, and at the very top, fats and sweets.

Likewise, a donor pyramid starts at the bottom with a large number of donors. Like the grains group at the bottom of the food pyramid, these donors don’t contribute a lot of calories/dollars, and they’re not intensely flavorful. Yet, they are crucial for basic survival. Do you see where I’m trying to go here?

Let’s say mid-range and major donors are like the fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat. Lots of flavor and color here, great caloric/nutritional punch, but you need to start being a little careful … you don’t want too much fruit at the expense of vegetables, or too much dairy at the expense of nuts and beans. You don’t want too many donors at this level interested in capital projects, at the expense of program support.

Finally, the peak. This is where the most delicious food resides, like this chocolate caramel cheesecake I made last Sunday. This is where the most wealth comes from in the donor pyramid – those dense, high-calorie, delicious donors who can supply the seven- , eight-, or nine-figure gift. But like cheesecake, too much of anything so potent can be dangerous. Just as too many Americans choose cheesecake instead of brown rice too many times, too many nonprofits chase top-level donors at the expense of the pyramid’s base.

If you think your nonprofit might need to shift its focus to the bottom of the pyramid for a little while, you might want to think of it as a healthy shift in diet.

(Speaking of which, I highly recommend this weekend cleanse by the ubiquitous Dr. Oz. The photo is my attempt at juicing kale. Not so easy if you don’t own a juicer.)

The summer after my senior year in high school, I worked as a car hop. This was the 1980s, not the 1950s, and the owner of the ice cream shop was nervous about litigation. So, we didn’t wear roller skates.

We wore cute sneakers, and sky-blue satin shorts with navy piping, and yellow scoop neck tees with a little rainbow near the right shoulder and the company name. We also wore yellow balloons tied to our aprons, which bobbed merrily above our heads as we navigated the parking lot, holding ice cream. I’m happy to say that no known photos exist from that time.

But I thought of how that job prepared me to become a good fundraiser when I read this Wall Street Journal article on reading the table. The skills I learned as I served carload after carload of customers are the same ones I use when working with individual and group donors.

Here are a few parallels I found between restaurant work and fundraising – can you think of more?

If you’re grumpy, you typically get better service at a restaurant. If you are a donor that’s hard to satisfy, the person in charge of your philanthropic relationship will make an extra effort to get you what you need to remain engaged.

If you ask a lot of questions about the menu, it may mean you want some guidance on what to order from your server. If you are a donor and ask a lot of questions about the programs and services you’re considering supporting, the fundraiser you are working with needs to figure out how to educate you without turning you off.

Finally, if nobody at the table seems to be in charge, the waiter needs to spend more time and energy figuring out how best to serve the table. Similarly, if a group of donors – say, corporate decision-makers or a reunion committee – can’t get consensus on their philanthropic goals, the fundraiser has their work cut out for them.

If you’re a fundraiser, what tools do you use to “read the table”?