My Bird Feeder: An Allegory about Nonprofits and Fundraising

Before the winter set in, I made a bird feeder and hung it from the branch in a bush not far from a window that looks out at my backyard.  It’s not fancy, just an old plastic milk jug that I cut a couple good sized holes in so I can put food in it.  I put birdseed in it, some field corn, pumpkin seeds, and occasionally some bits of fruit. It is interesting and peaceful to watch, and it gives my cats something to do when they sit in the window.

I get a small variety of visitors at my bird feeder.  I get a pair of cardinals, a good number of sparrows, a handful of juncos, and the squirrels that live in my neighbor’s attic.  On a couple of occasions, I have seen a pair of mourning doves visit, but not since the extreme weather (well below 0 Fahrenheit) has hit.

The squirrels that visit the feeder remind me of some of the nonprofits in the area where I live.  They climb the branches of the bush, and hang like trapeze artists to gain entrance to the feeder, and if successful in their attempt, search for the corn and larger seeds.  They don’t care much for the smaller seeds and push it out for the birds that come along.  The nonprofits that I compare the squirrels to spend their time jumping through hoops seeking the bigger gifts, grants, and government contracts.  They don’t waste their time on smaller donors, just like the squirrels don’t spend much time eating the smaller seeds.

The cardinals, the largest and the prettiest of the birds that visit the feeder, are like the more popular nonprofits.  They like to fly directly into the feeder and look for the bigger seeds and pieces of fruit, but they will also consume the smaller seeds too, and when the feeder is empty, they will look for seed that fell out of the feeder into the snow.  They have missions and programs that get the most public attention, helping them get larger gifts and more participation for their special events, but they will also work to get support from individuals, especially when times are hard and resources are scarce.

Sparrows are the most numerous and constant visitors at the bird feeder.  Unless there are no other birds or squirrels around, they do not fly into the feeder and eat the seed that the others have knocked out of jug and onto the ground.  They are a bit drab and nondescript, much like smaller nonprofits in the community that rely on gifts from small donors and small grants.  They don’t get the attention that the flashy red cardinals get, and when the seed on top of the snow is gone, or new snow covers the seed they go away to find more elsewhere.  They must hope that some benefactor is willing to feed them during these rough winter conditions.

The junco is the other small bird that comes to the feeder.  Slightly smaller than the sparrow, their numbers are fewer.  Like the sparrow, these birds tend to eat the seed knocked to the ground by the bigger birds and squirrels.  Unlike the sparrows, when the snow covers the seed, they stay around and dig down with their feet, jumping back and forth until they get to their food.  These birds remind me of the small organizations that don’t give up when times are hard.  They keep looking for resources because they know they are out there.

So the question is:  What kind of bird (or squirrel) are you when it comes to fundraising and your organization?  Are you the squirrel looking for the big seed and passing on the smaller tidbits?  Are you the flashy cardinal that uses its beauty to get more attention and easier resources?  Are you the sparrow that gets what it can, and then flies away?  Are you the industrious junco that keeps digging to get your reward?  Maybe you should think about it.


About greatergoodfundraising

Richard Freedlund has been active in the nonprofit sector in a number of ways, both professionally and as a volunteer. He is the founder of Greater Good Fundraising, a business that helps schools and organizations raise money for their programs while accomplishing something positive for the community. After living in Oregon for 27 years, he has returned to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois and hopes to make his mark on the nonprofit sector there. He is the father of a talented jazz musician and the son of philanthropic parents that continue to support multiple causes. To contact Richard for consulting, fundraising, or speaking opportunities, email or reach him on @ggfundraise
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6 Responses to My Bird Feeder: An Allegory about Nonprofits and Fundraising

  1. smaclaughlin says:

    Isn’t setting up and promoting the bird feeder really just attracting existing squirrels and birds that would have otherwise found food from traditional sources? Where’s the proof it’s benefiting all creatures great and small? And can the junco really justify the ROI for toiling with the bird feeder versus its existing foraging efforts?

    • Perhaps, but watching them and knowing that I am making their lives better makes me feel good, much like a philanthropist feels when they give to an organization or a cause. The squirrels around here bury the nuts they collect in the ground, and right now it is covered in a foot of snow. The birds find their seeds in bushes and ground plants that are also buried. As for the junco, if it doesn’t have to fly to another location to search, isn’t it succeeding in its quest?

  2. trevormaat says:

    This was an interesting allegory that I think worked on a certain level. I was waiting for you to make a judgement call, though, on which bird or squirrel had the best “nonprofit funding” method. I think there’s strengths and weaknesses in every case, but what do you think?

  3. Trevor, I appreciate your comments and question. I agree with you that each visitor has its strengths and weaknesses, and each method really depends on each bird or animal. The squirrel is larger, has the capability to consume the bigger seeds, so it makes sense that it eats them, but it ignores the smaller seed. The smaller birds, the sparrows and the juncos, don’t have the ability to eat the larger seeds, so they satisfy themselves with the smaller seed. The most effective would have to be the cardinals, since they will consume the larger seeds and the smaller seeds so they have a more balanced approach, but you really have to admire the juncos for working harder to get what the others leave behind hidden in the snow.

  4. Pingback: Ernest Charles Wild Bird Food 20Kg | Paragon Pet Shop

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