A reminder about making rice and similar fundamentals

Published by Ken Burnett on

Why once a year at least we should all revisit the basics of our trade.


I remember being told, a while ago, that you don’t get to be a martial arts black belt by practicing 14,000 different moves, you get to be a black belt by practising just 14 moves, 1,000 times each. It’s nice advice. The secret to attaining the highest level of proficiency is that you don’t progress to mastering the next move until you’ve truly perfected the last. It’s an agreeable story that contains an important truth: to excel at any trade, craft or activity, you first must master the basics.

There are few things more tedious in any profession than a seasoned old codger banging on about how youngsters coming into the business nowadays don’t bother to learn the basics. So I won’t. What’s more, I’ll leave you to decide for yourself whether that’s a problem you should be worrying about on behalf of our profession, or not. But it might be timely and supportive as we enter a new year to refer some of those new to our profession to sources that might help them to master their chosen path. And to remind some of the others, the more experienced hands, that a refreshing visit to the old foundations is well worth undertaking, once each year at least.

So I’d like to tell you a story about a very necessary essential, see below (*), and to list for you some links to some of the main foundations of fundraising which you’ll find set out for you, for free, in simple, copy-able formats on the SOFII site (which among other things was designed to provide fundraisers with ready access to this kind of useful information).

• An ABC of direct response fundraising.

• The 29 foundations of fundraising.

• The 11 pillars of wisdom and the five assumptions that underpin effective fundraising.

• Why saying thank you matters – promptly and properly.

32riceThere’s lots more fundamental stuff on SOFII of course, you just have to rummage around. But first, before you go to any of these places, why should you learn to make rice?

Well, it’s connected to the above and the tendency amongst the young and eager to rush off in multiple directions. Inevitably, for some, this means they risk focusing on what interests and excites them instead of on what they need to understand and learn to be great fundraisers. People tend to gravitate towards what’s most glamorous at the cost of what matters most. They might profit more if they were to learn a lesson from Japanese sushi chefs.

Sushi chefs, when training, are required to spend their first two years just making rice. Nothing else.

Rice is so fundamental to sushi, aspiring tyros must satisfy their seniors that they can make grain-perfect rice infallibly, even without thinking about it.

The novice then soon becomes the master of this basic of his or her trade.  Only having perfected the making of rice can she or he move on.

I like that lesson. Fundraising to change the world is no less important than the making and serving of sushi or the art of judo or jujitsu. Yet in our ranks we have no such discipline that demands this level of dedication to mastering the basics before permission is granted to move on.

I think this a grievous fault. Our donors and causes suffer because of it.

But then, I am an old codger.




At the time of the war between India and Pakistan that gave birth to the nation of Bangladesh, monsoon floods had devastated what was then known as East Bengal. The combination of conflict and natural disaster killed millions and created perhaps the largest exodus of refugees the world has ever known. Cast adrift into a countryside ravaged by catastrophe, these refugees had nothing but the prospect of starvation and disease. In the path of many of them was the sprawling, congested metropolis of Calcutta, which had troubles enough of its own.

Socially the lowest of Calcutta life were the beggars, and they were having a particularly hard time. The region’s troubles had seen off the tourists upon whom the beggars depended for their livelihood. In the district of Calcutta known as Chowringhee the one dependable thing in the lives of these beggars was a soup kitchen run by the Salvation Army, which each day provided a single square meal to each of the beggars, for most the only sustenance they had.

But word reached these beggars of the terrible troubles of the refugees who had recently arrived in their neighbourhood. They could readily imagine their suffering. Then the leader of the beggars’ community approached the organisers of the soup kitchen with an extraordinary request.

The beggars, he said, wanted to help. They requested that the soup kitchen cut their daily ration in half from now on, so the other half could be sent to the refugee camp. These people, who were so poor themselves, were prepared to sacrifice half of the little they had to help people they didn’t even know.

So there’s an answer to the question, who is a donor? A donor can be anyone. Anyone who cares enough to give something of his or her own to help another in need. It’s a basic that every fundraiser should know and appreciate.


Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett is an author, lecturer and consultant on fundraising, marketing and communications for nonprofit organisations worldwide.


Rickesh Lakhani · January 14, 2013 at 03:45

Ken, excellent post!

In this time of innovation and new technologies, everyone is looking for the next big thing. However, so many of the fundamentals don’t change.

If we don’t respect and pay attention to what makes fundraising successful at its core, our foundation will be weak.

Thanks for sharing these great resources, good for the new as an introduction to the important, and to the experienced as a much needed reminder..,and for your clear call to action for fundraisers.


Mitchell Hinz, WWF International · January 14, 2013 at 07:14

Ken, could not agree more.

One of the hottest “personal guidance” business books on the market right now is “Mastery” by biz guru Robert Green.

He says exactly same thing.

So from another old codger, “arigatou gozaimasu.”

Mitch Hinz
WWF International

Fundraising Intermission #2: Mastering The Basics | The Agitator - Fundraising, Direct Marketing and Advocacy Strategies for Nonprofits · January 23, 2013 at 06:01

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