How to Use an Oreo Cookie to Improve Your Capital Campaign
Fundraising is a high-stake, high-anxiety field. Both staff members and board members face constant anxiety and fear of failure. And the anxiety ramps up during capital campaigns when the goals and consequences of failure are even higher.
Here’s a simple but effective practice you can use to help your team function well. It’s the “Oreo-Cookie” approach to giving criticism. I learned it years ago from my wonderful coach Sali Taylor. When I can remember to use it, my work always goes more smoothly.
Let’s start with emails. How do you feel when someone sends you an email thanking you for something you did and telling you what a great job you did?
Feels good, right?
Now think about how you feel when you get a curt email pointing out several small mistakes in a big project you spent hours working on. All of that warm positive emotion goes away in a hurry. You feel criticized and under appreciated.
The Problem With Unconstructive Criticism
That’s just what happened to one of my coaching clients. A development director of a social service agency embarking on a campaign, she had spent hours and hours working on a draft of the case for support. She sent the draft to her ED and got this message back:
"Hey Julie. Just read the case draft. Please note the typos on pages 2 and 4. And where are the additions I asked for on the list on page 3?"
Julie had spent a long time pulling the material together into a clear, compelling document and all she got back from her boss was a list of what needed to be corrected.
It’s Hard to Do Good Work When You’re Closed Down and Grumpy
She felt herself close down and get grumpy. She corrected the immediate problems, but lost her enthusiasm to try to make it even better. Her excitement and creative energy for the project vanished.
Believe me, when someone is feeling criticized, it’s not good for your project! Julie’s boss made a mistake. She saved time with her cryptic and critical message, but she shut down the energy and enthusiasm of a talented employee.
So how can you give critical feedback in a way that doesn’t suck the energy and excitement?
Try the Oreo-Cookie Approach
Sandwich your corrections or critical feedback between two honest, positive statements. Here’s an example of how Julie’s boss might have used the Oreo Cookie approach.
Cookie layer 1:
Thanks, Julie, for doing a great job pulling this all together. I know you’ve worked hard on it, and I love the way it’s organized.
While you’re finishing it up, here are a couple of little things I caught when I was reading it. Two typos: Pages 2 and 4. And I’d love you to update the list on page 3. I hope you find these helpful.
Cookie layer 2:
I’m so excited to see this case for support taking shape. I think it’s going to be a great piece when it’s done. Thanks for all of your hard work on it.
What a Difference a Few Words Make
The two cookie layers make the corrections easy to swallow. In fact, with this approach, the corrections don’t read as criticisms, they read as simple corrections.
Now, Julie knows full well that her boss thinks well of her. And her boss probably had no intention of being nasty or critical. She was just in a hurry to send feedback.
But, if her boss took just a bit more time to couch her feedback in between sweeter layers, she’d find that Julie’s work would be even better and her relationship with Julie would be stronger.
Use the Oreo-Cookie Approach With Everyone
With just a little practice, you’ll find that it’s easy to give constructive feedback with this model. And, the best part is that you’ll actually start noticing more of the things that are great about people.
You may find that this approach has bigger (and more positive) consequences than you ever imagined for your capital campaign. When people trust you to notice and appreciate the good things they do, staff members, volunteers and even donors will be happy to work with you.
It’s just human nature.
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Andrea Kihlstedt is an innovative leader and expert in capital campaign fundraising. She wrote "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work (4th ed)," often referred to as the “bible” of capital campaign fundraising. She founded Capital Campaign Masters and co-founded Capital Campaign Toolkit, an online capital campaign resource and platform.