How to achieve gold medal fundraising - Winter Olympics

by Sara Lundenberger, director of nonprofit consulting | Feb 19, 2018 |

Fundraising, Nonprofit operations |


 I am a self-identified Olympics fanatic. I spend hours watching sports I don’t completely understand, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the hard work and dedication that goes into each of these disciplines. For two and half weeks, athletes from around the world become famous celebrities. After the Olympics end, though, the cameras and the eyes of the world go away.

Your fundraising campaign may have the same problem. You focus on events, campaigns or grant requests when they are in front of you; however,  when the campaign is over, you don’t think about them again until the next event, campaign or grant has to be done.

The work of Chloe Kim, Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu does not end once they leave the Pyeongchang Games. They will continue to train, compete and win – and you, through your fundraising initiatives, should do the same.

As you watch the remainder of the Winter Olympics, consider just how many similarities there are between fundraising and the sports. I guarantee it’ll be a fun way to do some homework for the year ahead! Here are a few to get you started.

Events: Snowboarding halfpipe

If you are a fan of the halfpipe, you know that the entire event lasts about 45 seconds. In that 45 seconds, snowboarders do the best tricks and show their best skills to score the highest points. Sound familiar? Planning an event takes tons of time and resources for a relatively short time period.

Nonprofits do their best to tell their stories to raise the most money they can in one night. What they can learn from the halfpipe is this: snowboarders are calm, cool and collected all the time. They see their events as fun and always push the envelope to come up with a new trick. They would NEVER say, “But I did it that way last year” –  and you shouldn’t either!

Annual fund: Figure skating long program

In the long program, skaters are not required to do specific moves as they are in the short program. They are given the latitude to do what works best for them, with some minimum requirements.

Much like an annual fund campaign, do what works for you! If I can’t land a triple axel consistently, I’m not going to add it in to my program. If you only have a few email addresses for your donors, don’t do an email campaign. The important part of the long program is this: it is a marathon, not a sprint. Your annual fund should encompass many pieces and different types of communication, and it should last all year.

Grants: Four-person bobsled

There aren’t a lot of team sports in the Winter Olympics, but one that relies on teamwork is the bobsled. In the four-person bobsled, there is a driver, two pushers and a brakeman. These four athletes have specific jobs; some are more important in the beginning (the pushers) and some are used at the end (the brakeman).

Writing a solid grant proposal also takes a team. The finance team, program team, executive director and grant writer all have to be on the same page in order for a grant program to be successful. Some may be more important in the beginning, like the executive director and the grant writer, while the program and finance teams are needed at the end.

Although the bobsled team is made up of four individuals, they all have the same goal: to win. Organizations that receive a lot of grant funding have clear goals and objectives, implementation plans and excellent budgets. This shows funders they are prepared, organized and willing to use the funding efficiently and for its intended purpose.

Planned Giving: Biathlon

The biathlon is a cross country skiing race with periodic shooting stations. Skiers must stop at the stations and fire five rounds at very small targets with special rifles. For each missed shot, the skier is required to take penalty loops. This race is long and exhausting and has a staggered start. The staggered start means the racers don’t know what place they are in until they cross the finish line – and this is important. They have no idea if they are ahead or behind. Add in the uncertainty of missing your rifle shots, and you can go from ahead to behind very quickly.

Like biathlon, you don’t always know where you are when it comes to planned giving. Donors don’t always share if or what they have left your organization in their will. Through time, they may change the amount or take you out altogether. Like the biathlon, your planned giving team needs to work as hard as they can to educate donors on their options, despite the fact that they may not actually see where they finished until years later.

Overall, your fundraising plan should be agile and strong. Don’t be afraid to throw yourself head first down an icy track on a little sled (that’s actually the sport of skeleton - watch it!) and try something new this year! A small change in your fundraising plan could make a huge difference in your bottom line. Enjoy the 2018 Winter Olympics and go for the gold in your 2018 fundraising!


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