11 Ways Fundraising Campaigns Are Just Like Football Games — Really!
I recently spoke on comprehensive campaigns at a higher education fundraising class taught by Tom Landrum, one of the nation's most tenured and respected advancement professionals, who is retiring as vice president for development at the University of Georgia.
My visit on a Monday followed the university's fall break, which coincides with the UGA-Florida football game (known as the world's largest cocktail party). Every student there attended the landmark football competition — which the Georgia Bulldogs won 23-20 against the Florida Gators, by the way).
As I began a conversation with students, I asked them how a football game was like a campaign. Some of their thoughts:
1. It's the preparation that counts. Training and learning plays for the athletes, and strategy, research, identification, cultivation and recruitment for a campaign.
2. You have to execute. You can have the best plays — and strategy — but at some point you have to just do it.
3. Be prepared to revise your strategy. When things don't go as planned — good or bad — be prepared to adjust, adapt and excel.
4. Campaigns, like football, are divided into smaller segments — a half, a quarter, a series of plays and a play. The best campaigns are devised into strategic segments, each building on the last, and each building momentum.
5. Football games and campaigns provide a rallying call for the faithful — and a "cultivation" opportunity for new friends or fans.
6. Everyone has a best role. A specialist in field goal kicking, for example, might be only used a few times in a game. But that is the player's highest and best use. Don't wear out players — or volunteers and staff — in tasks that others can do equally well or better.
7. You keep score. You keep score in the game, and you keep a lot of statistics — possessions, completions and more — just like in a campaign, where you keep track of goal attainment, the number of asks or cultivation visits made, volunteers recruited, etc.
8. People want to be a part of a winning team. Success does beget success. We do want to be a part of a meaningful cause.
9. You have to keep focused. There is a lot of noise in the stadium as fans (sometimes even your own) cause a distraction. And there are a lot of experts — most who have never played college ball or entered professional coaching. Likewise, in fundraising, we have well-intentioned staff and volunteers who prefer their own strategies — most often special events, grant writing and grassroots appeals.
10. Leadership — strong, positive leadership — can transform and inspire a football team or a fundraising team. The right leaders bring life to a cause and confidence in making an investment.
11. There is always another game, another season in football — and in fundraising there will always be another campaign. Remember that you will need healthy players and committed donors and volunteers for the next effort.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.