How to achieve gold medal fundraising

by Sara Lundenberger, director of nonprofit consulting | Aug 12, 2021 |

I am, once again, experiencing the sadness of the end of the Olympics. I am always amazed at the talent, grit and determination of the athletes that compete each year. Watching my favorite sports, learning about new ones and watching ones I truly don’t understand (I’m looking at you, team handball) makes the Olympics so enjoyable to me. I’m already counting down the days to Feb. 4, 2022 for the Winter Olympics in Beijing. I wrote a blog post in 2018 about the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and how a few of the sports could be compared to your fundraising. We thought it might be fun to make a few more comparisons to the Summer Olympics, so here we go!


Yearly planning: Swimming

Swimming has a little bit of everything – short swims, long swims, relays and medleys. When you think about your year-long plan for fundraising it should include all of those as well. In order to reach all ages and levels of donors, make sure you are including a 50m freestyle, like Giving Tuesday (fast and determined), a 4X100m medley relay, like board-hosted cultivation events (different people using their skills in the best way) and a 1500m freestyle, like a planned giving campaign (slow and steady). A solid mix of short- and long-term events and style will win your plan a gold medal every time.


Strategy: Adding new sports

There is nothing wrong with trying new things. In Tokyo, we saw skateboarding, surfing, karate and sport climbing added to the mix. It is easy as fundraisers to stick with what you know, especially when your budget is on the line. So instead of completely stopping one activity and creating a new one, be like the Olympics and add in a few new ideas to see how it works. You don’t have to scrap your old plans to try new things. I really enjoyed skateboarding and climbing but couldn’t get into karate and surfing. In surfing’s defense, it was extremely cloudy and windy the day I watched it, so the surfers were hard to see. Maybe I’ll give it another try in 2024. This makes another good point - don’t paint something as a bad idea if you only tried it once and it didn’t work out. Maybe it was just a cloudy day.


Events: Speed Climbing

In this new Olympic sport, climbers race up a 45-foot rock wall in about seven seconds. How does this fit with events? Planning an event takes tons of time and resources for a relatively short time period, like training for years to compete for seven seconds. Nonprofits do their best to tell their stories to raise the most money they can in one night. What they can learn from the climbing is this: Make a plan for how to scale the wall and execute it as best you can. I’m sure there is some metaphor for when the climbers get to the top and then just let go and fall slowly back to the ground, but I’ve been working an event all night and am exhausted.


Social media: Fencing

This extremely difficult sport to understand is all about precise movements and hitting specific target areas depending on the discipline – foil, épée or sabre – and it’s electronically scored. Sound familiar to some of your favorite social platforms? Social media marketing and fundraising is a balance of the right message, at the right time, on the right platform. It can be exciting when you get a hit, but it may take some time before you start to score points. The key to fencing is using your strength. If you are tall, you have a longer reach, but shorter competitors are quick and nimble. The same can be said for your social media interactions. Look at where you can have success and capitalize on it.


Teamwork: Team USA

The Olympics is a mix of individual and team sports. So is fundraising. I can’t do a successful inward 3 ½ somersault tuck from a 10-meter platform like 14-year-old Quan Hongchan, but I might be able to help you get your serve over the net in the women’s indoor volleyball gold medal match. So even though you might be in charge of the annual fund, talk to your grant writer to see if there is a new program or piece of equipment they’ve recently received funding for you might be able to highlight in your next appeal.


Just like canoe slalom, fundraising for your organization has its ups and downs, and we all felt like we were rowing upstream most of last year. The key to successful fundraising is to use your strengths, mix in new ideas and collaborate as a team. If you create a plan for your success with these things in mind, you might be standing on top of the podium at the end of the year.


Like what you read? Subscribe to our weekly blog and it will be delivered directly to your inbox!