September 2009 Archives

September 23, 2009

A Taste of Fundraising in the 1940s

I'm reading a fascinating book called The Food of a Younger Land, by Mark Kurlansky. It's a compilation of long-lost material from the files of the Works Progress Administration, which created the Federal Writers' Project in order to put writers to work. And a bunch of them were given the task of describing regional food and food-related traditions.

The various essays provide a marvelous cross-section of American life in the 1900s -- and what cross section would be complete without a little charitable work? Enter Mr. John G. Saunders, City Sergeant of Richmond Virginia. He made a name for himself creating great vats of "Sergeant Saunders' Brunswick Stews" and selling it by the quart -- at 50 cents per, which must have seemed like a lot during the Depression -- in order to support the American Legion and other causes.

Before you're tempted to recreate this intriguing bit of history, here's a quick look at the recipe for 600 gallons of Sergeant Saunders' stew:

240 veal shins
12 beef shins
780 pounds chicken
48 pounds bacon (as a substitute for squirrel)
1,800 pounds Irish potatoes
18 bushels celery
600 pounds onions
24 dozen bushels carrots
360 pounds cabbage
150 gallons canned tomatoes
72 gallons canned corn
48 pounds butter
salt, pepper, and thyme

This mountain of ingredients must all be put into iron cauldrons and stewed for six hours.
Hmm, hiring a caterer starts to look pretty good, yes?

September 16, 2009

Can Nonprofits Break the Cycle of Skimping on Overhead?

This new study and report in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, by Ann Goggins Gregory and Don Howard, probably won't surprise anyone in the nonprofit sector -- you've probably long gotten used to working on an ancient computer at an even more ancient desk -- but it sure is nice to hear some sympathy from a respected source. And some acknowledgment that there's only so much that nonprofits can do themselves to shift resources toward basic infrastructural needs (and thus greater efficiency down the line), when every nonprofit knows that the funders have their eye on the nonprofits' spending ratios.

It's the funders who need to wake up and realize that, in order to prevent a few nonprofits from misusing donors' funds, the vast majority are toiling away in conditions that border on the Dickensian. Take it from someone who -- not that long ago -- had to take a disk to her home computer every time she needed to print out a grant proposal.
September 9, 2009

A Nonprofit Volunteer's Inspiring Life View

Reading the University of Washington alumni magazine (Columns) of September 2009, I was drawn to the story of Phil Smart -- soon to be 90 years old -- and his views on volunteering.

In fact, the subject of volunteering is so important to Smart that he's written two memoirs about it -- called Angels Among Us and The Real Angels Among Us (the proceeds of which benefit Seattle's Children's Hospital). (Hey, I volunteered there during high school! I mostly remember helping kids blow bubbles during recreational therapy.)

Anyway, here's the apparent crux of Smart's thinking: Every day can be conceptually divided into three eight-hour chunks. Two of those three chunks are usually spent working and sleeping.

But it's the third eight hours, he says, that define each of us as a person. Smart has chosen to spend many of those hours volunteering (mostly at the aforementioned hospital, at the bedsides of sick and dying children). Of his time with the kids, Smart says, "They taught me life and death and everything in between."

Of course, the first thing that occurs to me and probably everyone else is that we don't exactly have an extra eight hours waiting to be filled -- those hours get eaten up quickly by commuting time, errands, making dinner, maintaining relationships with friends, and so forth. Still, it's an intriguing notion. And when you think about it, things like making dinner and seeing friends DO define us as people in important ways, and reflect sometimes unconscious priority choices.

So where does volunteering fit in? I know the answer for myself, and hope the efforts of Phil Smart and others to speak out will inspire others to devote at least a little time to a cause.

September 1, 2009

It's Fundraising Calendar Season!

They're at it again in Britain, with a calendar featuring local women, being raffled off to support a cancer foundation. It's not clear how much is being bared on the calendar itself, but the raffle tickets have photos of the women's thighs -- and ask people to guess who they belong to. Here's the story in the Lancashire Telegraph.

It's quite the hit in Ribchester, apparently. (That's in the Ribble Valley, of course.)

All very reminiscent of the movie Calendar Girls, starring Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, and John Alderton. (A must-see for anyone in fundraising.) The plot involves middle-age women posing nude for a calendar in order to raise money for a local hospital.

Not that I'm suggesting anything.