Running Out of Salad Dressing

When we interact with donors, we are often quick to offer up stories about the work our organization is doing. We want to share stories of the people we are impacting or talk about how amazing our new program is. But in our eagerness to share, we often forget to ask questions and learn the stories of the person who is sitting right in front of us.

This past month I had the chance to help serve a meal to the homeless in St. Augustine, as part of a volunteer program called Dining with Dignity. On this particular night, I was put in charge of serving the salad dressing. I had two options to offer the guests, Ranch or Italian. As the guests filed through the line, I couldn’t help but wonder if my offer of Ranch or Italian made any difference in the world. As we finished serving the meal, several guests came for seconds, and I soon ran out of Ranch. Shortly afterward I ran out of Italian.

One of the young kids who was about 18 came up and asked for more dressing. I had nothing to offer him, so I apologized. But he continued the conversation, saying, “Thank you for serving us dinner.” I asked him how his week was going, and he started sharing some of his story. He was having a bad week. His bike broke, he had to walk to work, he arrived late, and he got fired. He had no money to pay his rent and no money for food. I had no salad dressing, but that no longer seemed to matter. I listened to him a little while longer and tried to encourage him. He looked at me, made eye contact with me, and said, “Thank you for listening to me.”

I went home thoughtful. Serving a meal to the homeless is not just about feeding people. Fundraising is similar – it’s not just about telling our donors about our work and our ministry. We all have stories, including the donor sitting in front of you. There is a reason that your donors are currently giving or potentially interested in supporting your work. Do you know what it is?

Today, I challenge you to pause and ask your donors a simple question. Not, “Ranch or Italian?” but perhaps “What made you first want to support our organization and why do you continue to?”

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


  1. Wow! Incredible perspective. Thank you!
    Maybe it is worth assessing every now and then where I am laying up treasure. This could lead me to consider what I am about. I am convinced that we know it, when we are about the right things. Thank you again for the challenge!

  2. I think it’s a great story that shows I am always more concerned about how it affects me more than the other person I am suppose to be serving. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Brad, I love this story. Thank you for the encouragement that you have provided to those who raise money. We deeply appreciate you. Lori Maldonado Teach One to Lead One

  4. A boss in my brief and unproductive career in time management seminar sales used to tell me the secret to sales is to be a “master question-asker.”

    This is true.

    But what is just as true is to be a Master Listener.

    “Thanks for listening to me,” is what every fundraiser should long to hear; it’s certainly what every parent does.

  5. Thank you, Brad, this puts it all in focus! I liked this very much.
    I once had a dream when I was the volunteer coordinator for groups and it was a person standing by the road holding a homemade sign. It said “WILL WORK FOR THANKS”!! (Meaning if we appreciate and respect our volunteers/donors, they will be motivated to continue. Listening to someone’s story is a great way we can thank them for joining forces with us.

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