Creepy Little Grad Student
Recently I visited my son at his university. He studies physics. I know—nerd.
We went out to breakfast on that fine Saturday morning to a local restaurant. It was an institution which, since my time at that same university, catered to the granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing, over-educated student.
The brand voice of that restaurant is something along the lines of, “Respect for the body, respect for the planet, respect for each other.” I love it.
So we show up…delighted at the thought of gluten-free pancakes and tofu bacon. Who wouldn’t be? We were confused, however, there were people outside at tables. There were people standing in the restaurant. We didn’t see a maître’ d. People went by us and wrote their names on a pad on the counter.
Oh! Now I get it. I did the same.
We waited. And waited. We stood near the pad. Wait staff flowed around us like water around rocks in a stream. I realized that folks coming in after us were being seated. Checking the list, I saw that our names had been crossed off. No biggie. I stopped the first server and said, “Golly, it looks like we have the same last name as someone else. We’ve been crossed off but not seated.”
The server was somewhat small in stature, but had huge hair and a hairy face—typical of grad students. All that hair says, “See, I am all grown up.” He began to smile, pursed his lips to stop the smile, and said, “You weren’t outside. I called your name three times, outside. You should have been outside.”
I said, “Sorry, not from here. I didn’t realize your process and it is not stated anywhere I can see. Nor did any server help me by saying ‘stand outside’.” He grabbed the pad, pointed to the 12-point type in three lines at the top of the lined sheet that read, among other things, “stand outside.”
At this point, even tofu bacon cannot make it right. I felt no respect for the body, respect for the planet, or respect for each other. I felt like I wanted to educate this pompous little jerk in the art of being nice.
What happened? The brand did not filter down to the process of seating guests, or the manner of treating guests. I imagine the owner of the establishment would have been mortified at the employee manner. But really, the owner is to blame for not having made sure the brand was reflected everywhere a guest would be touched.
That made me think hard about my own business. Does every employee understand that our job is, ultimately, to help raise money to help Earth and its inhabitants? Does every employee know that in rendering our services, every touchpoint has to reflect our values? Are our values actually codified in our planned, written and taught processes?
While I feel confident no one here could compare to the tofu tyrant I met, I could not answer the above questions with an absolutely confident yes. Can you?
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.