Fundraising achievements are earned, not given. Don’t put off doing the hard work necessary to fulfill your mission.
I can count on one hand how many times I’ve questioned my general existence. Most of those times center on running sprints in the midday 100º, 100% humidity of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I had the great opportunity to play football for LSU, and as the banner that hung over the door to the weight room stated, “The Pride & Tradition of the LSU Tigers will not be entrusted to the weak or the timid.” Playing on the team was earned, not given, and the way to earn your spot was the infamous “110 Test.” It was simple: run 110 yards in 20 seconds or less, take a 45-second break, then run another 110, then another, until you tallied 16 total sprints. This was usually followed by a quick break, then another 10–20 sprints. depending on the mood of our strength coach, Coach Tommy Moffitt. Typically, sometime during the test, guys would hit a breaking point. They would fall short of their times, mentally check out, walk off the field, or quit running altogether.
With every sprint, Coach Moffitt challenged us: “HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT?! AND WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO SACRIFICE TO GET IT?!” The summer of 2011, our team (badly) wanted a championship and I (badly) wanted to pass the test. I wouldn’t be given a spot on the rotation for the offensive line; I had to earn it. But at the end of sprint 14, I crumpled to the ground. I simply couldn’t do it. This was it. Another year, another failure. But I was jolted from my self-pity in a hurry by a large Gatorade bottle hurled at my head. With that, I heard the call: “HANDS BEHIND THE LINE . . .” Before our coach yelled “GO!” I had caught up to the linemen running, then powered through 15 and 16. I couldn’t believe it—I had finally passed the test!
“But what does this have to do with fundraising?” you ask. Well, frankly, A LOT! First, you have to earn every fundraising achievement, whether it be growing your donor file, raising more money, or strengthening your donor relationships. This goes against the basic human desire for life to be easy and to be given a positive outcome. (But that is an article of its own.) Most people KNOW they need to work hard, but it’s a whole lot easier to postpone actually DOING that work. This is when you need to ask yourself my strength coach’s questions: “How bad do you want it? And what are you willing to sacrifice to get it?”
Many nonprofits “kick the can down the road” on making a decision for one of three reasons:
(1) They don’t actually know what they want. These organizations tend to change their mission and vision statement every time you talk to them. They can’t accomplish the good they’re pursuing, because they have not codified it.
(2) They know the good they want to achieve, but they haven’t decided how much they really want it. These organizations want to grow their foundations giving, so they cross their fingers and hope that thinking about that growth, or wishing for it, will make it appear. My father had a saying about these people: “Defecate in one hand, wish in the other, and see which one comes out first.”
(3) The last group knows the good and pursues it, but half-heartedly. These people tend to be of the same ilk as the new year’s resolution type. All fired up on January 1st, with beach season right around the corner, but no real commitment to following through on the plan.
So, how do successful organizations avoid falling into one of these traps? Easy!
- They quantify their pain/gain.
- They codify their ideal future.
- They get a coach.
Follow their example and work through those same steps.
First, you should assign concrete numbers to the amount of money you’re losing each year, and how much money you stand to gain by biting the bullet. We asked one group we worked with, “If you had to quantity how much money you’re losing from not having a fully operational customer relationship management software, what number would you come up with?” The customer said, “At least millions from everything from unrealized gifts to wasted hours of labor.” Be as precise as possible. Granted, the goal isn’t pinpoint accuracy, but it is to to nail down as closely as possible how much money you’re losing or stand to gain.
Step two: Underneath the numbers you determined, write down (yes, write it down) what you want for the future of your organization, and the difference it would make to those you serve if this problem were fixed or opportunity realized. As humans, we tend to make decisions with our heart, then have our brains rationalize them. Most of us didn’t get into nonprofits because of an inherent passion for fundraising. Rather we got involved with nonprofits out of a desire to strengthen civil society in some way, shape, or form. If we want to actually make that stronger civil society a reality, though, we have to quit kicking the can. We have to work to put together a concrete plan, then pitch it to leadership, whether it be your boss or the board.
Lastly, while the water bottle that hit my face hurt, I’m forever grateful that my teammate Will Blackwell chucked it at me, spurring me to finish those final two sprints. (I still thank him for it!) While I’m not advocating for physical abuse in our white-collar careers, I am recommending that you get a coach, a mentor, someone who’s traveled this road before. I have no shame in declaring that I work for AmPhil, and that my colleagues and I provide not only the coaching, but the continual inspiration you need to keep moving forward.
Your mission is too important to the people you serve, to the people who serve alongside you, and to your donors for you to give up when the going gets tough. You may just find that by sticking with it, you earn your spot at the top (and pass the test!). But no matter what you do, remember: it’s time to stop kicking the can.
A postscript: What was the result of that season, you may ask? Well, I finished those 16 sprints, and went on to win a spot as a second team offensive lineman as a walk-on. We finished the season 13–0 (beating 8 top-25 teams, including besting Alabama in Tuscaloosa). We lost the National Championship, sadly, but (until Joe Burrow came on the scene) we went down as one of the top college football teams ever to have played.