By Derrick Feldmann

You might call it an occasional weakness for fast food. I call it market research for nonprofits.

Well, OK, maybe that’s stretching things a bit. The truth is, I do enjoy the occasional visit to the “Golden Arches.” Usually, I heed the McDonald’s call when I’m on the go – dashing from one meeting to the next, driving across the state or passing through an airport.

What’s interesting about these varied visits (and this is where I claim to be doing important market research) is that every experience is essentially the same. Whether I’m making a quick stop along the highway, killing time between flights in a major metro airport, or grabbing a snack in the mall, I know what to expect, from the fries and shakes to my interaction with employees. Regardless of whether you like McDonald’s, you have to admire the chain’s ability to uphold the standards Ray Kroc created to ensure that your experience is consistent.

Can you say the same about your organization’s fundraising practices? Or do you have a few things to learn from the people at McDonald’s? Consider these basic lessons.

Build a consistent donor experience. At McDonald’s your experience will be consistent. How about your donors’ experiences with your organization? Review the donor experience from first contact to giving and beyond, and work to ensure a consistent experience. Set standards for the experience, and create metrics that allow you to maintain those standards. Donors who receive a consistent and exemplary experience will be motivated to give and engage in your work again.

Create a system for the annual fund to operate effectively. The consistent McDonald’s customer experience is built on a foundation of systems. Every restaurant process and customer interaction is guided by this system. Because most of us don’t have the luxury of fundraising departments with more than 3 or 5 staff members, it’s even more important that we have similar annual fund systems to yield consistent results. Think about it another way: If you left for two weeks, would your current fundraising system continue to generate resources? Or is the system dependent on you at all times? If so, step back and develop a concrete system, one that provides the structure and process required for reliable, consistent experiences. But here’s the thing: This system is not simply about making sure everything stays the same. It’s also about freeing up your time to experiment with new trends, craft new approaches and visit with major donors who might yield larger resources.

Create peak performance indicators for performance and experimentation. The McDonald’s system didn’t simply occur to Ray Kroc on day one and remain the same ever since. On the contrary: It has been the product of a steady and relentless system of experimentation. Think of all the McThises and McThats we’ve seen over the years – some successful and some not. Just as McDonald’s has indicators and clear expectations for how each employee should perform his or her job, the company has created and perfected benchmarks for experimentation. As a fundraiser, you should create similar benchmarks to help you determine whether you are reaching your peak performance. If you’re experimenting with a new fundraising strategy, create at least three indicators for benchmarking results, and develop for your board a clear indicator for measuring new approaches. This will help you assess experiments, change direction as needed and build long-term and ongoing fundraising success.

Oh, yeah: And as you put these three practices to work, consider one other lesson to be learned from McDonald’s: In a crowded marketplace, customers (and donors) have plenty of options. Give them a reliable and consistent experience, and the odds are that they’ll be back again and again.

So, there you have it: Deliver a consistent, high-quality experience. Systemize your fundraising. Create measurements for all performance and experiments. It’s a model that has brought more than 99 billion people to the Golden Arches – don’t you think it could help you build your organization?