Last week, the Oklahoma Sooners softball team won the College World Series after an impressive season. They were exciting to watch, even for someone who is not a huge softball fan (please don’t tell my softball coach husband). As I was watching one of their games last week, the team began to pull ahead, and the commentators shared some fascinating insights about the reason for the team’s success under coach Patty Gasso.
Three elements of how she instructs the team stuck out to me as lessons we can apply to fundraising:
Disciplined players know exactly what to do and when. I saw this happen in the game repeatedly where Oklahoma players knew that if there is any dust near home plate, their job is to run to the next base without hesitation. Dust means an errant throw of some kind, and they’ve been trained to not investigate the reason for dust, simply to advance.
Fundraising takes the same type of discipline. Part of the reason we recommend having a plan and using the Donor Engagement Plan (DEP) is to build plans we can execute. By looking ahead, we can ensure that we know what to do and when. And when we see dust flying, we can quickly adjust and change the plan without hesitation.
Make the most of every out.
Oklahoma is a powerhouse team. They won about half of their games by run rule, meaning they outscored the other team to the extent that the possibility of a comeback is impossible, so the game is ended early. Said another way: this team gets a lot of hits and scores a lot of runs.
Still, when one of those hits is a fly ball that results in an out, the team makes the most of it by advancing to the next base. It’s an out, which sounds like a setback. But, because of their discipline, they use it to their advantage.
In fundraising, there are many opportunities that can seem like setbacks or disappointments. Maybe a donor says “No” to an ask you thought was a great match with their passions and interests. Or one of your biggest donors calls to say their business is suffering and they can’t give as much, or at all, this year. These moments are hard, but if we handle them well, perhaps they’ll help us in the long run to advance in our role, advance the mission we serve, or maybe advance a relationship. The key for us is to watch for the opportunity and have the right perspective.
At the risk of insulting any softball fans, one of the elements I find annoying are the songs and chants from the dugout. It’s unlike any other sport. Still, one of the things that makes Oklahoma unique is that they celebrate everything. Every. Thing. Great throw? Celebrated. An out? Celebrated.
Large gifts are not the only thing to celebrate in fundraising. I often coach fundraisers that all information is good information. Even seemingly disappointing things are worth celebrating. For example, it can feel disappointing when a donor says they don’t want a relationship with us. But that’s good news – if we celebrate that we’re now freed up to spend our time elsewhere instead of continuing to try to connect.
Celebrating seemingly small things is also important. One of the fundraisers I manage says every time we meet that she hasn’t done much. Then, I ask her about meaningful connections and ten minutes later we realize she’s had significant interactions but hasn’t stopped to recognize them or celebrate them. They’re important.
Whether you’re a softball fan or not, the philosophies and approach that made Oklahoma so successful can play into your day-to-day work as a fundraiser. And honestly, I can see how being disciplined, making the most of opportunities, and celebrating can benefit not just your work as a fundraiser, but also your life.
Lisa Robertson is Director of Client Services at Veritus Group. She has over 25 years of experience in non-profit leadership, serving as an executive, program director, and special event coordinator. Lisa has been responsible for fundraising, donor/constituent relations, marketing, and internal communications. She has a dual degree in Communications and Political Science from the University of Washington and worked as a sports reporter and editor before entering the non-profit sector.