Lessons from the Waffle House

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Lessons from the Waffle House

Lessons from the Waffle House

by Clare Jordan

March 2024

There is a lot to be learned from a stool at the bar of a Waffle House. If you travel frequently, you might even have a favorite Waffle House location, as I do.


Sitting at a Waffle House countertop and observing the ordering, cooking and serving process is like watching a well-choreographed dance, and it’s one of my favorite breakfast entertainment outings.


I can’t help but draw some analogies from my Waffle House excursions to our field of fund development:

1. Structure

Set yourself up for success with a solid, well-tested and agile system. The Waffle House design is a layout that has been tested and proven for efficiencies. How effective is your set-up? Consider the resources you need for success and how they are stationed as carefully as the Waffle House team determines grill and counter placements, including components such as:

  • Staffing: Do you have the positions you need and the right people in the roles? If not, how might you fundraise to resource the staff positions you need?
  • Database: How functional is your CRM and how clean is your data? Are you running and using valuable reports? Is the Development Committee/Board weighing in with useful advice and helpful connections based on shared reporting?
  • Tools: Are you operating at maximum efficiency with your phone, laptop, and social media usage? How user-friendly is your website for donors? Do you have updated gift policies?

2. Listen

Communications is key to getting the order right at the Waffle House. Waitresses yell out orders in a concise, agreed-up language the full team is trained to understand. A focus on listening makes it all work. How attuned is your communications skillset for listening to donors, giving them an opening to share their stories, knowing which questions to ask when, and providing prompt and appropriate responses? Identifying the right gift tool is as critical as hearing “scattered, smothered, covered” correctly.

3. Preparation

Because Waffle House is open 24/7, they need to be prepared for all kinds of weather scenarios. The Waffle House Storm Center is mobilized during extreme weather and determines if they can continue operations in affected areas. (Even FEMA uses something called The Waffle House index as part of the criteria in gauging the severity of weather events with red, yellow and green codes.) How prepared is your nonprofit for challenges of economic, leadership transitions, and other major influences? Do you have a plan that encourages agility in reaching out for support when you need it most?

4. Team

The well-oiled machine of the Waffle House team depends on methodical recruitment and training processes. They teach that, “Your job is all about delivering the Waffle House experience to your customers.” And opportunities to move up in the company are based on “skill, teamwork, attitude, and coach-ability.” In the field of development, we are all charged with “teaching philanthropy.” How well trained and motivated is your team to achieve mutual goals?

5. Delivery

Waffle House is known for consistently delivering the breakfast you expect in any city anytime of the day. Are we delivering that level of quality results to our donors, where regardless of the organization’s staffing or other priorities, supporters can expect a consistent level of cultivation and stewardship for their giving?

6. Availability, Accessibility, and Transparency

Every Waffle House restaurant is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with open kitchens where all the action is visible to diners. How accessible is your development team? How easy is it to make a gift online, how well is that gift acknowledged? How easy is it for potential donors to find a phone number or email to contact a development staff member? And how transparent are you in showing your board members and their connections to the organization as well as sharing financial standing and impact?

7. Stewardship

Genuine thanks is meaningful. Waffle House Founder Joe Rogers, Sr. says, “We are not in the food business; we are in the people business.” Recognizing and celebrating relationships is what keeps people coming back: diners and donors.


So take advantage of International Waffle Day coming up March 25th to go get a waffle, an omelet or just a cup of coffee at your favorite Waffle House and consider the commonalities of your dining experience with the world of philanthropy.

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