As Efficient as Waffle House


Today I had the best meal of my year.  It was unbelievable, absolutely amazing, the most delicious food I could ever possibly eat.  I ordered cheese eggs, raisin toast with Apple butter,  bacon, grits, smothered hashbrowns, and a waffle.  Those of you who know me realize that I don’t typically eat that way, but I ran a marathon today.  On marathon days I eat whatever I want.  The Waffle House is an amazing place.

If you’ve ever been to a Waffle House you’ll quickly see that there’s one person who is  cooking for the entire restaurant.  They stand in front of the griddle and they write nothing down as the waitresses yell out orders.  It’s an incredibly efficient system: the waitress yells out words in such a way, and then the cook arranges the plates in order of what was yelled out.  Somehow they can know to cook scrambled eggs, fried eggs, waffles, bacon smothered hashbrowns diced and chopped all at the same time.  They have a secret code that they speak in, and it works incredibly well.  The outcome of this incredible code is likely the most delicious meal you’ll ever eat.  Or at least mine was today.

Believe it or not I’m now going to say that this relates to fundraising.  It really does.   The sixth principle of Taking Donor's Seriously is that “proper planning minimizes costs and maximizes results.” Waffle House is the greatest example of that.  They have a system and they follow it and I get a delicious breakfast.  It’s the same thing with Taking Donor’s Seriously.  There’s six principles and five practices and when you follow the five practices; fundraising works.  I’m sure that many of you get trapped in the tyranny of the urgent, relevant to fundraising.  This time of the year I start to receive dozens and dozens of end-of-the-year appeals of which the majority of them I don’t even read.  Why does everybody send them out? Why does everyone do a chicken dinner banquet and golf tournament? These things just don’t work very well.  We know that the best way to raise money is to sit down with someone and share the vision of what you’re trying to accomplish and talk about how you’re changing the world, but for some reason everyone just does what everyone else is doing.  Today when I was at the Waffle House I’m sure if they stopped following the system my breakfast wouldn’t have been perfect.  I ordered a lot of food, so did my son, and the reason it was perfect, was because they followed the tried and true system.

While I was running my marathon this morning I received a text from one of my friends.  He’s a major gift officer and has been following the principle of proper planning.  He’s been pursuing five donors over the last six months and sharing with them the impact of what the organization he works for is having.  These five donors have all given modestly to the organization, but he spent the time to take them through the process of sharing a case – the equivalent of calling out the order in the right way to the waitress at the Waffle House, and these five donors yesterday each committed gifts larger than they have ever given in their lives.  The largest gift came from a donor who has been giving $20,000 a year.  He projected a  $1 million gift.  The other four projected similarly amazing gifts.

Proper planning minimizes costs and maximizes results at The Waffle House and it can for your  fundraising campaigns as well.

If you want to hear more about this story, listen to the Taking Donor Seriously Podcast where I further explain this story.


  1. Reading this reminds that there are different ways to try and accomplish the same goal. When you find a way that works stick with it and make sure everyone is on the same page, thanks.

  2. Completely agree. Face-to-face, one-on-one, relationship building, mission success stories, vision casting is by and far the best tried and true method. So why do we do banquets, golf tournaments, auctions, fund-raising letters, and the like? In my experience, too many who are responsible for fund raising are intimidated by the face-to-face and direct ask. We’re afraid. We might get turned down. We think we might ruin the relationship. It’s much easier and safer to do a more distant ask. What does it take to make the direct ask, one-on-one, face-to-face? For me it’s belief in the mission and vision, trust in God and prayer, self-confidence, and the necessity of the resources to accomplish the mission and vision. Other thoughts?

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