The Meal, the Menu, the Recipe, and the Grocery List

Meals are an experience.  Good meals activates us.  Exceptionally delectable meals with family and friends during special occasions are stored and relived as indelible memories for years to come.  Some people (perhaps you!) can recall with fervid clarity the over-the-top chocolate dessert they had at a special restaurant a full 10 years later!  When they retell the story, their smile broadens, they ooh and ahh, and their eyes get wide with excitement.

Reading a menu usually is not an experience.  Although effective menus  help us choose our meals by portraying food as appetizingly as possible with savory descriptions, we don’t remember the menu.  We don’t retell the story of reading the menu.

Even less memorable and rousing is the reading of a recipe.  This is almost never an experience  – even when it does create the “to-die-for” dessert!  Most of us simply can’t envision the scrumptious outcome from reading the recipe.  It is too technical to elicit great emotion.

Finally, at the lowest level of positive impact is the grocery list.  For most of us, we don’t even want to see the grocery list because shopping is a chore.

So, here’s the point:  To get the diner interested in the meal, the restaurant shares a well-crafted menu, not a recipe and, certainly, not the grocery list.  But as development officers, we spend much of our time telling donors and prospects about our grocery list of needs.

For instance, whole case for support statements have been developed that are little more than a list of needs.   We do the equivalent of telling our donors we need egg yolks, cornstarch, dark brown sugar, cocoa powder, bittersweet chocolate, and heavy cream and expect their mouths to water in anticipation of our delicious chocolate pie.  And, in the worst cases, we don’t even suggest that our needs will be combined into a good recipe.  We simply list a bunch of needs like an unfocused grocery shopping list and then wonder why our prospects are not making significant investments in us.

At the most basic level, we should be preparing giving menus that artistically paint the pictures of appetizing outcomes their gift choices will help us achieve.  And when we do our work exceptionally well, we should go beyond the menu.  We should offer experiences to our prospects and donors.  We should give them opportunities to experience for themselves the work of our institutions and organizations.  We should connect them with those we serve, ask them for their advice,  invite them to participate in fulfilling our mission, and engage them with others who believe what they believe.  We should give them memories that they will want to share – even 10 years later.

Yes, you need donors to help you get the egg yolks, the cornstarch, and the cocoa powder.  But you will have much more success getting those ingredients when you make the compelling case for the chocolate pie.


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