What if Fundraising was an Olympic Sport?

| by Bert Armstrong

I’ve been staying up a little later than usual the past couple of weeks.  Every two years, the Olympics take over my television.  Since the timezone in Rio is an hour ahead of us, all the finale’s and best moments are being shown up to, and sometimes past midnight.

So I stay up. And I watch? And I’m in awe of what folks like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, and Katie Ledecki have accomplished!

While watching the last evening of the gymnastics competition, my mind wandered a bit.  I found myself asking the question, “What if fundraising was an Olympic sport?”  Now some of you may be thinking that Bert has finally gone over the edge.  Maybe he fell on his head attempting a dismount from the balance beam (or in my case the curb at the gas station). 

Not to worry, I am of completely sound mind, yet I still keep asking myself that question.  “What if fundraising was an Olympic sport?” 

I think of a nonprofit’s overall fundraising program like a Decathlon for men and the Heptathlon for women.  Athletes compete in distinctive track and field events testing their strength, speed and stamina.  They earn points for each event with the goal of being the top overall point winner.  Each athlete excels in some events while being average or above average in others.  They don’t have to finish first in every event to win gold.  Instead, they recognize that they must excel in some events while being pretty good, but perhaps not the best in others.  It takes real discipline, preparation, training, and their very best effort in every event to win gold.

A nonprofit’s fundraising program consists of many different events and donor engagement activities.  Your year-round program may include a peer-to-peer annual campaign effort, a special event or two (gala, golf tournament, auction, etc.), a year-end appeal letter, online giving, social media, donor acquisition mailings, major and planned giving calls to special donors, grant writing, stewardship programs, and perhaps even some ongoing work on a major capital or endowment campaign. Depending on the size of your development team, the engagement and giving potential that exists among your community of donors and volunteers, your organization may put more or less emphasis in some areas vs. others.  Or your team may just be better at certain parts of the development program than others.  That’s OK!  The key is to continually improve your performance in all areas while excelling in the areas that you understand to be most critical to your nonprofit’s success and sustainability.  Just like in the Decathlon and Heptathlon, it takes discipline, preparation, training, and your very best effort in each activity to win gold – meaning in this case, the generosity of donors!

What sport do you think fundraising resembles, and why?  Go to Twitter and visit #FundraisingOlympics to share your thoughts on particular sports and how it may be similar to some element of the fundraising cycle. Or share your thoughts in a comment on our Facebook or LinkedIn posting.  Feel free to make a serious comparison or offer our readers a little comedic relief.  Let’s see what we come up with.  

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