Archives for posts with tag: organization

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.)

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.

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?