Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Holy Redeemer Fish Fry

My friend Dave is a very talented business owner, graphic artist, dedicated husband and devoted father. So when his parish needs a volunteer, he is eager to help out. A few years ago Dave stepped up (with his usual high level of enthusiasm) to run a fundraiser for the school. A fish fry during the Lenten season was going to be the big idea. They had a unique drive-through location where they would be able to serve fish sandwiches and French fries with commercial efficiency almost like a quick-service restaurant franchise. They had several planning meetings. Of course, the volunteers became friends. They are parents and parishioners with a lot in common.

They made trips to buy the fish, fries, tartar sauce, ketchup and soft drinks. He told me about buying paper products (plates, bags, napkins) and scheduling volunteers in shifts over the fundraising weekend. Naturally Dave designed a poster and flyers to promote the event as well. The whole production was a group effort and, all told, added up to hundreds of man hours.

Dave shared this story with me for a reason. You see the net proceeds of all this effort was about $250.00. And that was with free labor and eye-popping promotional materials. The concept made sense seasonally. The community supported the event. It’s just that contribution margin ended up being pretty modest (They were fortunate to finish in the black). Dave has no regrets but admits that had he known of this likely outcome at the onset of the rally to pull it off, he would happily just written a check for $250.00.

You see, in spite of “the best laid plans…” careful calculations and an eager army of workers, you can still fall short of your ambitions. To me, this is a cautionary tale of business in general – and marketing in particular. I’m sure the school will gladly accept the big check for $250.00 while the Holy Redeemer Fish Fry volunteers return to their daily lives of car pools, soccer practice, church and school activities.

Life goes on. Hey what about a car wash next year? A bake sale? A golf tournament?

P.S. My nephew JV shared a story from another part of the Midwest. He is in Columbus, Ohio and an active member of the Knights of Columbus at his church. He has business acumen and could not fully appreciate the Fish Fry at his parish. He sees now that the activities of a volunteer army can sometimes get in the way of enhancing profitability.  Ironic that fundraising efforts are as much about making sure fundraisers feel good about their efforts as delivering a big bottom line. 

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