Why Fundraising Is Like Coaching Football
It's September, and a new football season is upon us. My West Virginia Mountaineers won their opener recently, and I'm excited. Having played football and other sports, plus coaching youths for many years, I feel like my style of management is much like coaching.
I try to coach the game of fundraising while teaching others how to play it. I also love to continually learn from other coaches.
The art and science of what we do always amazes me. The goal of fundraising during each fiscal year is to score. We work in a job where others count donors, gifts, dollars, solicitations, portfolios, volunteers, moves and other statistics. The numbers never go away or seem to be reduced. We are always asked to do more with less.
Having played many seasons in the fundraising profession, I feel the fall season typically begins the start of a new fundraising season. My goal as a head fundraiser/head football coach is to always have the best team of staff and volunteers in the game.
As a coach, I create the playbook as a guide for success. I expect my staff to project a variety of elements. These elements include creation of an operating plan, developing research strategies, developing ideas, helping identify prospects, cultivating and stewarding donors, initiating all types of correspondence, plus recruiting and training volunteer leaders.
This process gets very complex when you're establishing a development services unit that supports annual-, major- and planned-giving "plays." As a coach, you must evaluate all the players on the development field and make sure they are in sync with the goal of scoring. The staff must be prepared mentally and physically to handle the long and stressful fundraising season. You will have wins and losses as your staff and volunteers determine the outcome of each fundraising season.
With respect to volunteers, I look at the volunteer board members and fundraising committee members as key captains on the field. These volunteers must understand that their role is to help define the mission, policies and plans. They also must help identify and recruit players to fill fundraising gaps, plus participate in the fundraising process.
With respect to boards, I look to the nominations committee to help me find the right volunteers with the talent we need. I look to the development committee to help understand the game plan and execute plays using volunteers who can open holes in the line to score touchdowns through knowing the right prospects and strategies for success. You are not going to win with a tired board or volunteer pool.
As a coach, you also need to understand what attributes are needed to excel. For example, I look for passionate volunteers who are committed to opening doors and educating others after they make their own gifts. I also look for volunteers who are good at acquisition, plus others skilled in retention. Each volunteer can contribute as long as he or she wants to stay on the field and build relationships, plus execute strategies. If volunteers are disinterested and have lost their desire for the cause, it is up to you to kindly bench them.
An enlightened board and staff that are motivated to succeed will help your team continually win through developing a winning focus of positively blending priorities, prospects and process. Excited volunteers will help build a consistent culture of relationships and pride in being part of a winning team. You as a coach must strive to educate and communicate to volunteer players on the field while understanding goals and objective orders from the administrative press box. Everyone has to understand his or her role and be a willing team member. Only with positive statistical results can we truly help greater numbers of those in need of our services.
Is your team ready to kick off a new season?
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.