Miracles, the Chicago Cubs, and Fundraising

Earlier this month, many of us experienced what felt like a miracle—the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Even if you are not a baseball fan, or if you supported the Cleveland Indians (the Cubs’ very worthy opponent), there are some great takeaways for fundraisers from the season that ended a 108-year stretch of losing:

1. They worked together as a team. We’ve all heard the cliches like “there’s no ‘I’ in team” and “together everyone achieves more,” but many nonprofit organizations remain siloed—and worse, many fundraisers feel competitive with other fundraisers in their organization. You may love online or offline channels, personal visits or mass mailings. But it’s when those things work together that we achieve the greatest fundraising results. Fighting over who gets credit can be the downfall of fundraising when we care more about attributing donations to the motivation than we do about motivating donors. In today’s world, I daresay very few donors are only influenced to give by a single approach. So, yes, let’s measure and invest in what’s working. But let’s stay focused on what we can accomplish when we work together, not on being the MVP of a losing team.

2. They reported results. Baseball loves statistics—sometimes it seems that the sillier they are, the more they are loved. But there is constant reporting of wins and losses, setbacks and surprises. For Cubs fans, “Fly the W!” became the rallying cry (when the Cubs win, a flag with a large “W” for “Win!” flies at their home, Wrigley Field). Are you flying the “W” so your donors can see that their donations are actually making a difference? Are you proactive in reporting results, so no one wonders if they chose the “winning team?” Simply posting our wins online, and hoping our donors take the time to find them and read them, isn’t enough. We need to regularly share wins with our supporters if we want them to stick with us long-term.

3. They talked to their supporters, not lectured them. When Cubs coach Joe Maddon addressed the fans and the media, he didn’t whip out his thesaurus to find words that made him sound intelligent. In fact, his advice to one player was about as straightforward as it could be: “Try not to suck.” That became the rallying cry for the team and the fans. No complicated statistics. No technical terms. No acronyms. Just plain English that made it easy to relate to Maddon. When we dehumanize our appeals and updates by talking at our donors instead of to them, we often fail because we’ve forgotten that people respond to conversations, not lectures. If you are the final say about copy, make sure it is a conversation. If you are editing copy, read it out loud. Where you stumble, edit—because that’s where you will likely lose your donors. Forget proving how smart you are. Instead, invite a donor to share in a conversation with you.

4. They fought until the end. For both Indians and Cubs fans, a game seven that included a rain delay and a 10th inning was agony. But both teams kept fighting until the final out. It was amazing to see the players stay focused on the desired result, despite the ups and downs of that game—and it was also a reminder that the game isn’t over until the last out is called. We may have fundraising projects that fail. We may have a donor walk away from what we thought was a perfect proposal. We may get tired and just want to go home. But fundraisers keep fighting, because we have our eye on the prize—the accomplishment of our mission as an organization.

In these final weeks of 2016, no matter how discouraged you are, stay focused on being the best fundraiser possible. This old dog knows that failures are frustrating, but take it from this Cubs fan—miracles still happen.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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