What Can a Steakhouse Teach You about #Fundraising?

Not long ago, I visited The Capital Grille where the chef served more than perfectly prepared steaks. At the end of the meal, he also served up a valuable fundraising lesson, albeit unwittingly.

Capital Grille TY NoteLast week, in America, we celebrated Thanksgiving. This week, we marked #GivingTuesday. Inspired by both of those occasions, I’m going to share my Capital Grille experience with you.

At the end of a wonderful meal, some uneaten steak remained on my plate. There was no way I was going to let the succulent meat go to waste when I could use it to make a perfectly delicious sandwich the next day.

So, I asked our waiter to please wrap it to go.

I didn’t give the matter any further thought as I waited for the package to arrive from the kitchen. Up until this point, everything was pretty much routine.

However, when my to-go package of leftover steak arrived in a nice paper bag, I couldn’t help but notice a note tied to the bag’s handle. The note, hand signed by the chef, read:

We are glad you enjoyed your meal enough to take some home with you. Thank you for dining with us, we appreciate your business.”

I’m more than a half-century old. I dine out quite a bit. In my life, I’ve taken leftovers home on many occasions. However, this was the first time that my leftover package came with a hand-signed thank-you note!

Here are five takeaways for you:

Do what you do well. The Capital Grille serves up superb steaks and other items. While dinner there is pricey, most customers nevertheless feel it is a good value. Whatever your organization does, do your part to make sure it honors its mission in a quality way. Then, make sure your supporters know about it.

Provide great service to those who are important to your organization. The Capital Grille can charge high prices because the food is high quality. However, that’s not the only reason. If customers weren’t treated well when dining there, they’d go elsewhere in the future. So, the restaurant makes sure to deliver great service as well as great food. You need to make certain that you are providing your organization’s supporters with great service. It’s not enough to do a good job with mission fulfillment. You need to also take care of your supporters. That means promptly sending out thank-you letters, quickly responding to inquiries, providing updates about your organization’s progress, and much more.

Surprise your donors and volunteers. I don’t mean shock them. I mean pleasantly surprise them. The Capital Grille surprised me with a thank-you note. You can surprise and charm your supporters by sending them an unexpected handwritten thank-you note in addition to your organization’s formal acknowledgment letter. Call your donors to express appreciation, invite them to an upcoming event, or ask for their opinions. Arrange to visit with your donors.

Remember the personal touch. The Capital Grille chef could simply have hung the pre-printed thank-you card on my bag. Instead, he took the time to hand sign it. Small, personal touches can make people feel special. The alternative is to make people feel like a number, at best, or completely ignored, at worst. Think about the little things that don’t cost much that you can do to make supporters feel special.

Show your gratitude. By giving me the thank-you note and by the note actually expressing appreciation, The Capital Grille showed its gratitude. Your organization needs to do the same. For example, if your #GivingTuesday efforts helped you attract new supporters, be sure to make them feel appreciated with a special expression of gratitude, something other than an email blast that isn’t even personalized. They’ll be more likely to renew their support if you do. In fact, make sure to properly and promptly thank all of your supporters, both donors and volunteers.

The following words of Henri Frédéric Amiel, the 19th century Swiss philosopher and poet, nicely underscore what I’ve just written:

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”

So, during this season of Thanksgiving and #GivingTuesday, what are you doing to show heartfelt gratitude to your organization’s supporters in a personal way?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

11 Responses to “What Can a Steakhouse Teach You about #Fundraising?”

  1. Great post as always. Good advice for running any type of business or NPO that serves the public.

  2. Thanks, Michael! A wonderful reminder for all of us, especially at this time of year.

  3. Michael,
    Enjoyed your post Michael,so important in a world where much is taken for granted! The power of reaching out and it’s impact.

  4. Hey Michael, Happy Holidays…..your experience is precisely what Tom Peter’s was talking about in the late 90s….”The customer is the rearview mirror.” To surprise a customer means delivering something not on their radar…..It means they will never put it in a survey or any kind of response tool…..We need to create it. Hope it was as good the second time around. 🙂 Best j

    • Jay, thank you for sharing your thoughts. When I’m invited to speak at a conference, I’m often asked to share the “latest-greatest” fundraising tips. It seems fundraising professionals are always on the hunt for some sort of new, almost magical technique that will allow them to acquire, retain, and upgrade donors in greater numbers. While I’m always happy to share what’s new, the reality is that most organization’s would do well to simply focus on mastering the fundamentals. As you correctly pointed out, the idea of pleasantly surprising the customer/donor is certainly nothing new. Unfortunately, it’s a powerful technique that has yet to be fully adopted by the nonprofit sector. The good news is that those charities that do embrace the concept will reap significant rewards.

  5. I’ll share a story of how I was (very unexpectedly) on the receiving end of a genuine show of appreciation recently. Following a performance of “The Nutcracker” at the non-profit arts center I work for, 3 of the dancers approached my family & me at the afterglow event to see how we liked the show & to thank US for attending! There’s no way they would have known that I had a special connection to the venue (this was a visiting troupe from 2 hours away). I was mighty touched by this simple, free & sincere gesture of gratitude.

    • Julie, thank you for sharing your terrific story! Relatively simple, no-cost gestures can have the biggest impact. For an arts organization, giving supporters the opportunity to mingle with the performers can be particularly powerful. But, many organizations outside of the arts could do something similar. We’re only limited by our imaginations.


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