Retired Owner, Benbrook Associates
Back in May, we were delighted to catch up with Don Slobodien at our Spring Open House. In true Don fashion, he brought with him the most thoughtful gift and note that nearly brought our team to tears. It was a ferris wheel drawing by him, with a note that read:
“I chose this drawing as a metaphor for fundraising… It is a ‘ride’ – a fun ride at times – a scary ride at times. And it is often cyclical. And beautiful.”
Don is the retired owner of Benbrook Associates, a Columbus agency that focused on advancing the missions of nonprofits. You may know him for many things – an outstanding grant writer, a talented artist, or maybe the facilitator of your board retreat. We’re lucky to know him as a longtime, dear friend of our firm.
Now, with Don’s ‘fundraising ferris wheel’ proudly hung in the Cramer & Associates office, we wanted to know more. Learn more about Don and his insightful analogy of a ferris wheel to fundraising in our Q&A session below!
Q: How is fundraising comparable to a ferris wheel, and what was your inspiration behind this artwork?
A: There’s a bit of magic in the air at county fairs when the evening sun fades and the rides begin to light up at twilight.
My wife, Amy, and I plan our late-afternoon arrivals at county fairs so we can experience those magical moments.
My gratefulness toward Cramer & Associates for their long-term friendship and professional partnership was paramount when choosing an artwork as a gift that would truly express my gratitude. The ferris wheel stood out as an analogy for fundraising – it is often cyclical; at its top, it provides a unique, big-picture view of the local landscape; and the ride can elicit are variety of emotions, from thrills to fears.
Q: With a wealth of experience in grant writing and nonprofit consulting, what have been your most monumental experiences or career highlights over the years?
A: The greatest reward of a career in nonprofits is knowing that I had the honor of working with many passionate leaders and people over many years to feed thousands of hungry men, women, and children; turn thousands of empty houses into livable homes; improve the health and well-being of thousands of vulnerable people; help countless families avoid losing their homes; and improve many lives.
Ultimately, one learns that money is only a tool that helps to improve the human condition and that money, itself, is not the goal.
Q: What is the top piece of advice you would give to nonprofits seeking grants?
A: Grants must be aligned with any major gift strategies that are based on relationships.
Too many nonprofits approach grants as transactions, not relationships. Funders are, more often than not, stewards of other people’s money and are accountable for it. Approach funders with a mindset of achieving mutual goals. As in a marriage, a proper courtship should precede the proposal.
Q: You have a strong background as an artist. What role does creativity play in nonprofit strategies?
A: All creative endeavors are exercises in problem solving.
The ferris wheel drawing required a planned approach starting with the dark blue foundation and the addition of one layer of color after another to achieve the final image. If the foundation fails, the drawing will fail.
The foundation of a nonprofit is its mission – everything builds upon that foundation. Strategic planning, budgeting, and program creation are among the critical layers that must be mission focused for organizational success.
Thank you for catching up with us, Don! We’re always grateful to call you a friend.