Are you a “Fred the Baker” type of non-profit leader?

building train tracksWelcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Tracking,” John talks about the power of planning by sharing an amazing story about a stretch of mountains in the Alps that is next to impossible to pass. Instead of waiting for the train technology to catch up, Europeans decided years ago to build train tracks through that part of the mountains in anticipation that train technology will one day produce an engine with enough horsepower to get the job done.

Reading John’s post made me think of the countless non-profit executive directors and fundraising professionals who take on the role of “Fred the Baker” instead of embodying the spirit of those European planners who built those train tracks.

What? You don’t remember who Fred the Baker is? Check out this YouTube video and ask yourself this simple question: “Do I look like this every day and evening on my way to and from my non-profit job?”


The story that immediately comes to mind and is very common and why many non-profit organizations can’t seem to get a major gifts program off the ground. When asked what is stopping them from building the capacity to add a major gifts program to their fundraising program, the explanation looks and sounds remarkably like “Fred the Baker”:

  • The day-to-day, month-to-month routine is so fast and mundane that there is no time for planning.
  • In January, we do the dinner.
  • In February-March-April we do the annual campaign.
  • In May we do the golf outing.
  • Etc, Etc, Etc

I recently had the privilege of working with a group of non-profit volunteers who said . . . ENOUGH . . . let’s build some train tracks.

They understood the following:

  • They didn’t have the right staff in place to implement a major gifts initiative.
  • Their technology (e.g. donor database) needs a lot of work to support an initiative like this.
  • Their resource development practices and systems need to change (e.g. stewardship)
  • They might even need to change the people sitting around the table.

Yet, none of this stopped them from working on those train tracks. They made it a goal in their resource development plan to some day have a fully functional major gifts program. They then look realistically at what they could start doing rather than what they couldn’t do and came up with the following handful of objectives for this year:

  • Develop an internal case for support.
  • Develop a menu of gift opportunities.
  • Identify a small handful of potential major gift prospects.
  • Develop personal confidential personal strategy plans for each prospect.
  • Engage in implementing each plan and start cultivating.

They are laying train tracks for the future and doing what they can today in anticipation for what they want to happen tomorrow.

How are you ensuring that you and the folks at your agency are NOT “Fred the Baker”? Do you use the planning process (e.g. strategic plan, board development plan, resource development plan, marketing plan, program plan, etc) to lay future train tracks for your organization? Do you have a great success story that you want to share? Please scroll down and use the comment box to jump into this discussion because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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