Fundraising and the Mud-Pie Factory

• effective fundraising • fund development process • sustainable fund development • Leaky Bucket • fundraising is everybody's job
Ellen Bristol

Everything I ever wanted to know about fundraising, I learned in my mud-pie factory.  I learned it because I set up my mud-pie factory with a very orderly process, including ways to track results.  I never wanted to just mix up any old mud or call any old ball of dirt a "mud-pie."  I had higher standards than that.Kids in mud-pie factory

When I about seven years old, we lived next door to the Johnsons.  On the border between their house and our driveway, my mother planted some ground cover and flowers.  Up near the garage, it just petered out into, well, dirt.  So that's where I set up my mud-pie factory. 

First, I established the boundaries.  The factory started here and went to there, so anything outside of those borders was not the mud-pie factory.  The first section of the factory was the raw materials.   This area received a lot of attention, because I already knew that if you worked with crummy materials, you got crummy mud-pies. I wanted to see mud-pies that would look pretty (a high standard for a 7-year-old girl), pies that would not simply crumble into dirt clods after they were dry. So I chose the best, softest, richest dirt with the fewest rocks and twigs. 

Fundraisers need to have some standards about their "raw materials" too.  In the world of fundraising, the raw materials are donor prospects.  If you have no standards for choosing those prospects, well, you risk wasting a lot of time.  How do you know that you're choosing  prospects that will give you great mud-pies?  Or don't you know at all?

Then I put together the methods that would transform plain old dirt into the best mud-pies imaginable.  My (long-suffering) mother kindly surrendered an old colander, some spoons and a mixing bowl or two.  She even gave up her favorite sieve, so I could refine my dirt even more.  She got into it with me, helping me to assure that my factory had the best equipment possible.  She did, however, require me to get my water from the garden hose so that I wouldn't track mud over the kitchen floor.

Fundraisers need to have good equipment too.  If they don't have the right sieve (database technology), or lack those spoons and bowls (cases statement, marketing and outreach methods), they will not get great results.  And we don't want them to make a mess out of the job either!

Finally, I was ready to make mud-pies.  I had the raw materials, equipment, water, time and sunlight for drying out my pies. (PS, in case you're wondering, "high" mud-pie season in New Jersey is early summer.)  I even had a display system set up, with designated cobble stones for "smooth" pies, "crunchy" pies with lovely small pebbles on top, and pies with grass and flowers in them.  For  my first output, I dragooned both Mom and my older brother to give me feedback.  "Say, these are great mud pies!" was the opinion from all two of my focus group.  "Make more!"  This was great news, because I could spend hours out there in my factory, and my mother could keep an eye on me out the kitchen window. And I wouldn't pester my brother for attention.

If you haven't tested your fundraising "wares" with live donor prospects, you might not know if your mud-pies pass muster.  Test, test, test!

I've been thinking about my mud-pie factory quite a bit lately, because several of my girl cousins (we're all grandmothers now) have reminded me of what a tyrant I was in those days!  I simply would not let Judy, Betty Ann or Dinah (respectively 4, 5 and 7 years old at the time) mess up my assembly line, spill the water, use the sieve or spoons for any unauthorized purpose.  They could play with me in my mud-pie factory all day long - as long as they adhered to my process.  Which they did!  Result:  Ellen's mud-pie factory turned out the best, most reliable, most attractive mud-pies of anyone in the family, which was my entire target market. And we all have memories that still make us laugh until we cry.

I loved my mud-pie factory, not only because it was so much messy fun, because my little girl cousins wanted to play with me in it, and my little boy cousins loved to fake-eat our pies and then pretend to be grossed out.  I  loved it because the whole sequence made so much sense!  These days I look at lots of fundraising professionals and I can see, they're not producing as many mud pies as they could, they're not having as much fun as they should, and they're not getting the results they want.  Are they selecting the right raw materials (prospects)?  Do they have the right methods and tools in place?  Are they tracking mud all over the kitchen floor?

Let me know if YOU have your fundraising down to a science.  I'd love to hear what works for you - and if you love play in your mud-pie factory! Oh, if you're not sure what's working and what isn't, please go and take the Leaky Bucket Assessment for Effective Fundraising.  Remember, if you can't get the water to the dirt, you can never make a mud-pie.



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