There are lessons all around us if we’re willing to look.

I’m big on creating systems in your office to make fundraising (and everything) run smoother and easier.  Here’s a great experience I had a couple of days ago which reminded me of the importance of systems.

I drove my Mom to Kentucky for a memorial service for my uncle who passed recently and on the way home, we stopped at a Waffle House for breakfast.  I’m not usually a big Waffle House fan, but it was convenient so we decided to stop.  It was crowded and we took a seat at the counter (which I liked because I could watch the cooks).waffle_house_sign_5x3

It became very clear very quickly that the group of people working (and there were several) were not working together as a team.  If there was a system for taking orders and filling them, they either weren’t trained on it or they were ignoring it.

After 30 minutes, we still had not been served and I noticed lots of other customers looking quite annoyed.  There was a man with an official looking name tag and clip board watching, but he did nothing to help the misfit crew.  I would love to know what he was doing, because he clearly wasn’t there to help!

There are so many details I could share about this particular experience, including the waffle cook who poured the batter into the waffle irons, neglected to set the timer, then walked off.  When we finally asked when our waffles would be ready, the waitress, opened the waffle irons, saw the scorched waffles, then dumped them in the trash.  Someone else rushed up, poured more batter in, and when the waffles were done, quickly carried them off to another customer.  Grr.

I was totally fascinated at the dysfunction of it all.  Mom was so mad she could have bit a nail in two.

So, what are the lessons here and how do they apply to fundraising?

First, have a system.  You want to make sure that every donor who interacts with your organization has a good experience.  How do you do that?  Have a system in place.  Make donors a priority.  Make sure you thank them appropriately. Do you consistently send a warm, sincere, prompt thank-you letter?  Are you writing the letter at the moment you need it or do you have a letter ready to tweak and use whenever it’s needed? Systems will help you make sure that things are done consistently and smoothly, and that will ultimately help you raise more money.Education child Mathematics Class

Second, have the right people in the right spots.  In the Waffle House kitchen, there were 2 people cooking, and it was clear they knew their job.  But everyone else seemed to bounce from one thing to another, with nothing really getting done.  Calling out the orders was definitely a place where things broke down.  A waitress (not ours) called out our order (reading it wrong) and we were initially served toast and eggs (definitely not the waffle we ordered).  Where was the team leader?  Where was the manager?  There was no one managing the chaos that morning.  Make sure the people on your team are in the right spots and know what their job is.

Third, make sure people are trained and provide support.  I’m thinking that the waffle cook who neglected to set the timer, then walked away either forgot part of his training or got distracted by something more interesting.  Someone should have been there to remind him to stay on task.  Your people might be staff or volunteers.  Either way, make sure they know what they’re supposed to do and be there to answer questions for them to help them be successful in their jobs.

So, that’s how my waffle got burned.  A busy morning added pressure to a weak, non-working system where people weren’t clear about their roles, and weren’t supported by a leader.

By the way, my Mom swears she’ll never go to Waffle House again.  I’m skeptical, but if I decide to go again, I’ll definitely be watching to see if their system is working.



    • So, in this case there weren’t enough cooks in the kitchen. Hmmmm…usually the opposite problem. 😉 Joking aside, after 10 years in grant writing I’m still learning lessons when it comes to systems, processes and their importance. It doesn’t seem like folks at that particular Waffle House had a grasp of their function and an unwillingness to be a team player – both musts when it comes to successful fund raising. Great example you provided here!

  1. I could just visualize the situation while I was reading! Glad you were able to stay the ‘distant observer’ and not get too out of sorts. I agree – systems are essential to things running smoothly. Without the right processes being followed it’s just too easy for everything to get derailed. Thanks for your insights!

  2. Sandy,
    My husband and I often stop at the Hope Diner in Bristol RI for breakfast in the middle of a long weekend morning bike ride. We marvel at the procedures set up for keeping the food coming and being delivered to the right folks, though they seem to be in the one daughter who is the ringmaster’s head. Perhaps also like too many development offices, the wisdom and process isn’t shared by all.
    Sorry for your loss.

  3. Mary Cahalane says:

    I had a similar experience recently that led me to similar thoughts! We were at an Olive Garden (like you above, not my favorite) and had a waiter who was doing his best to be so loud and energetic and perky that I wanted to scream. Not because of the enthusiasm, but because the enthusiasm was so obviously faked. Made me think of some solicitation packages I get – insincerity is death!

    Anyway, I thought it was funny that we both had restaurant experiences turn us toward fundraising thoughts!

  4. Sandy, you really do find a lesson everywhere 🙂

    I want to jump off on Gayle’s comment to share one more reason that systems are important. When you have great systems, good people can come and go. An organization doesn’t want to have a break down in fundraising just because there’s a change in staff or a staff member needs to be away from the organizations for a leave.

    Great systems really help organizations that depend on volunteers, too. We’ve all be handed a manual of “how to” and when the system was already in place, we were much more successful than when the system was in the last volunteer’s mind.

  5. This sounds like so many nonprofits that I know! everyone is so busy doing their own thing, they don’t stop to look around at what everyone else is doing, and how can best aid each other. There’s no PLAN. There’s no STRUCTURE. I think this is what the BIG nonprofits have that the small nonprofits lack.

    I’ve got a blog post on Lean fundraising which talks about how to coordinate your activities in your fundraising office and get yourself back on track on the tasks that matter. Would love to hear what you think of it!



  6. Many moons ago, I had a college roommate who was a Waffle House manager. He would be appalled!! 🙂

    Good systems (not just systems for the sake of systems) can make the difference between getting things done and not. They can also make average people look like a Superhero.

    Good stuff, Sandy. BTW, did you get your hashbrowns scattered, smothered and covered?

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