This is the Blackbaud Community Best Practices blog.

Stop Throwing Spaghetti On The Wall!

I’ve been reflective this week – it’s the 20th anniversary of my first job with a nonprofit organization. Coming from the hospitality industry where I worked evenings, holidays, and weekends, I was just thrilled to be working an office job, Monday through Friday! I didn’t even mind that my first three days were spent photocopying scholarship applications. Little did I know my world would soon become filled with words such as “appeals,” “donor acquisition,” and “cost to raise a dollar.”

Shortly after joining this organization, I discovered that a third-party mail house was pretty much running the show for our fundraising efforts. Their account manager would create a proposal for the mailings they wanted to do for us, and we’d nod and sign on the dotted line as we had for the past 10 years. They’d mail to our mailing list but there was no real plan. It was like throwing spaghetti to the wall to see if it would stick. The mailman was bringing us tubs full of returned mail every day. I was dumbfounded by the waste – and by the fact that I was responsible for all the returned mail!

I began to crunch some numbers, and it turns out that our cost to raise a dollar was … embarrassing. The only one raising money was the mail house.

It was time to take matters into our own hands. We took a hard look at our database. We grouped donors into segments and analyzed how each segment responded. We drew a donor pyramid to discover the weak spots. We established a threshold for success – we would only focus on the segments with the most favorable returns. We crafted a message that was consistent with our mission, and asked people to help us succeed. We branded that message and used multiple channels to send it.

We went from throwing spaghetti on the wall to an actual fundraising campaign. It had purpose, it had a theme, it had targeted segments. These were the early days of what became an annual campaign. Within five years, the organization positioned itself for success and embarked on a multimillion-dollar capital campaign.

If you’re inspired to take the next steps and begin controlling YOUR fundraising campaigns, register today for our new class, Nonprofit Workshop: Creating a Fundraising Campaign to learn about creating annual campaigns, stand-alone campaigns, and capital campaigns.
Good news for Learn® training subscribers. If you have a Learn Everything® training subscription, all Nonprofit Workshop classes are included. Not a subscriber? Find out how a Learn subscription can help develop your efficiency and ongoing skills.

Since those early days in my career, I’ve had two children and have actually had spaghetti flung on my walls. But I’ll never again have a fundraising campaign founded on throwing spaghetti to see if it sticks.
Posted by Amy PosavacOsborne on Sep 21, 2017 4:41 PM America/New_York

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I love this analogy!
  • Posted Tue 10 Apr 2018 12:12 PM EDT
Will definitly have our Development department look into this class.  I am sure the pyramid could be very helpful.  
  • Posted Mon 23 Apr 2018 04:43 PM EDT
It truly does make a difference when you can target your donors. 
  • Posted Wed 25 Apr 2018 01:49 PM EDT
We still have a lot of spaghetti on our walls... ;)  Thanks for this post!
  • Posted Tue 01 May 2018 01:00 PM EDT
Thank you for posting this!
  • Posted Wed 02 May 2018 01:28 PM EDT
Great analogy, very catchy for the title :) 
  • Posted Thu 03 May 2018 11:11 AM EDT
Funny, I also came from a background in hospitality and had to deal with the learning curve. Jumping in to the Annual Fund in my first job with a nonprofit was so totally different, but the same in so many ways! Love your analogy. Glad you were able to make headway and progress in changing the process once you learned your way!
  • Posted Mon 07 May 2018 04:43 PM EDT
Oh my gosh! How have we missed this class?  We run campaigns but mostly in a this is how we always done it fashion.
  • Posted Mon 04 Jun 2018 01:25 PM EDT
It's been so helpful for us to invest the time in segmenting our donors. The results have been great!
  • Posted Mon 04 Jun 2018 03:51 PM EDT
Great analogy!
  • Posted Tue 12 Jun 2018 12:54 PM EDT
Loved the analogy!
  • Posted Tue 24 Jul 2018 08:06 AM EDT
Will share this with my Annual Giving colleagues, thank you.
  • Posted Tue 24 Jul 2018 02:21 PM EDT
I like how you were not only able to see an issue, but you put a plan in place to fix the problem.  Of course, the analogy was cute too! 
  • Posted Wed 15 Aug 2018 08:17 AM EDT