Fundraising Productivity and My Mud-Pie Factory

Ellen Bristol

January 18, 2023

About the Author

Ellen Bristol

Ellen Bristol, President of Bristol Strategy Group, is a nonprofit thought leader in fundraising effectiveness and nonprofit management optimization. She has a passion for helping small to medium sized nonprofit organizations, NGO’s, and social enterprises build and grow fundraising capacity, adapting classic principles of the process-management discipline to this all-important strategic function.

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Happy new year, everyone! We are stoked to announce our very first high-tech solution — the Leaky Bucket Professional Edition. Like our long-term free Leaky Bucket Assessment, this version reveals fundraising productivity. But unlike the original version, this time we provide a more sophisticated assessment using data visualizing for reporting, diagnostics showing priorities for improvement, and the ability to track your progress over time.

If you have been following me for a while, you know I’m a nut for performance management, but the truth is, everything I know about this concept, I learned in my mud-pie factory.

When I was a little girl, we lived next door to the Johnsons. On the border between their house and our driveway, my mother planted some pretty 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. I just wanted to play, but I also had strict standards about creating an orderly, repeatable process. I wanted to make 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. And I wanted to have fun with my little girl cousins and neighborhood friends.

First, I established the boundaries.  The factory started near the garage, where it was easy to ‘source’ the raw materials (dirt). The next step closer to the front yard was the ‘materials processing’ step, where I sieved the dirt to remove stones and twigs and make it nice and smooth. 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.

Finally we enter the ‘mixing’ stage. That’s where we add water to the dirt and make mud. My mother insisted I use the garden hose instead of traipsing in and out of the kitchen. For obvious reasons.

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 and money. How do you know that you’re choosing  prospects that will give you great mud-pies?  Or don’t you know at all?

Fundraisers need to have good equipment too.  If they don’t have the right sieve (database technology), or lack  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 for decoration. For  my first trial run, I dragooned both Mom and my big 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 (the 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 (i.e. income) as they could, they’re not getting the results they deserve, and they’re not having as much fun as they should.  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”, instead of acquiring, retaining, and upgrading donors and other funders without making a mess? Are their “family” – clients, employees, volunteers, governing board – cheering them on?

If fundraising is drudgery; if you and your team are miserable, underfunded, and underpaid, the answer is most likely no. You’re not going to make the best, most reliable, most prolific mud-pies possible if you don’t have the right tools, methods, and processes to do so.

This is still a brand-new year. There is plenty of great “mud” – also known as philanthropic energy – available. If you want to know more about the health and productivity of your fundraising mudpie factory, please talk to us about the new Leaky Bucket Fundraising Management Assessment.  


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