Lessons in Fundraising Resilience from America's Pastime
Updated: May 31
The grass is green, the birds are chirping, and spring is finally here in St. Louis. That means one crucial thing for me: here in the best baseball city in the country, I can resume my obsession with America’s pastime.
One of my favorite sports columnists once described this time of year for baseball fans as the return of “Baseball You” - the person who plans their day around game time and lets their emotions rise and fall with wins and losses.
That also means it’s time for an essential dose of perspective.
My first trip to Busch Stadium in 2023 saw my Cardinals lose a frustrating game to the Atlanta Braves, which I had to endure with one of my closest friends, who happens to be a diehard Braves fan. The frustration of that game and a few other early-season duds compelled me to step back and remind myself that I had just watched game 4 of 162. The next 6 months will see dramatic wins, losses, frustrations, opportunities, and everything in between.
Sound anything like life as a fundraiser?
The winning streaks energize and inspire you - donors are responding to your asks, checks are rolling in, and you see yourself building momentum toward your annual fundraising goal.
At the same time, the losing streaks can be deflating. Nobody is answering the phone, and you start to wonder if another check is ever going to come through the door.
The best fundraisers - like the best baseball teams - can’t avoid the low points. Where they separate themselves, though, is how they respond. Persevering through the challenges sets us up to maximize periods of opportunity.
Here are some tips to navigate the ups and downs of the long fundraising season:
Embrace Challenges: One of my favorite baseball adages is that virtually every team will lose 60 games and win 60 games; it’s the remaining 42 that decide your fate. In fundraising, some struggle is inevitable. You may be submitting a long-shot grant that’s likely to be declined. If that happens, don’t get discouraged; chalk it up as one of those inevitable defeats that are bound to pop up. Stay focused on your goals and execute your fundraising plan as consistently and effectively as possible.
Don’t Get Complacent: Just like the tough times shouldn’t get you down, the good times shouldn’t change your focus. Resting on your laurels during a time of success can set you up for major problems down the road. If checks are coming in the door, don’t stop doing what’s most important: cultivating and stewarding donors, searching for new opportunities, and effectively managing deadlines.
Keep Looking for a Competitive Edge: One of the most fascinating things about baseball is the way a team can make a minor change to spark results - that could be a tweak in the batting order, calling up a young player from the minor leagues, or a trade to shake things up. Always look for the same edge in your fundraising program. Maybe you brought a new Board member on a donor visit, and they blew you away. Maybe your program team developed new data that impressed a foundation in a quarterly report. Whatever that edge is, always be on the lookout and be willing to incorporate it into your process.
Pace Yourself: Yep, you guessed it: I’m going to remind you about the importance of work-life balance. In baseball, it’s vitally important that teams manage the workloads of their pitching staffs early in the season to avoid fatigue and injury during the crucial final stretch before the playoffs. For fundraisers, that means limiting yourself so you don’t burn out and contribute to high turnover in the profession. You may not be at risk for Tommy John surgery, but overdoing it can lead to major professional challenges.
Fundraising is a Team Sport: Just like one great player can’t carry a team on their own - sorry, Mike Trout and Angles fans - the best fundraiser can’t do it alone. It takes leadership that is committed to a culture of philanthropy, a Board that is personally dedicated to the organization’s success, and staff who see the importance of fundraising. The fundraiser is the key cog in the fundraising machine, but the organization’s entire roster has to contribute to sustained growth.
Spring will soon turn to summer, and I’ll continue to try (and sometimes fail) to remind myself to keep perspective as I root for my team to win its 12 World Championship. I’m fortunate to do the same thing for my clients - coaching, celebrating, and helping them work toward their goals.
If you need a coach, encouragement, or help to build your team, reach out to Team Kat and Mouse for a free consultation!