Take Me Out to the Ballgame!: a Comparison Between Fundraising and Baseball


By Poonam Prasad, President at
Prasad Consulting & Research

 

 


By Janet Harris, Senior Consultant at
Prasad Consulting & Research

 

 

 

Now that fall is in the air, many of us turn our attention to America’s traditional pastime: baseball. While you’re daydreaming of your hometown team making the playoffs, ask yourself, “What do baseball and fundraising have in common?” To begin with, both are a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. And, at the end of the day, no one wants to come home with just peanuts! There are many similarities between baseball and fundraising:

  • They both depend heavily on statistical data, or at least they should. Whether you run a start-up development shop or a highly sophisticated one, use the resources you have to collect and analyze information to your advantage. Good decisions depend on good information.
  • They both rely on teamwork. Everyone has a unique role to play — from the vice-president to the data entry specialist. Even superstar fundraisers can’t do it all.  They need a team of competent colleagues in order to bring home the wins.
  • In both baseball and fundraising, success depends on constantly revising the strategy. Allow time for reflection to identify the next best move. Frenetic activity rarely accomplishes much but thoughtful and thorough work sure can pay off.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Nothing substitutes for daily discipline and good habits. Create timelines, deadlines, accountability, follow-up, and evaluation.  Test what works and what doesn’t — then “luck” and wisdom will come to you.
  • Both need adequate investments: in knowledgeable, experienced players, the proper equipment, excellent coaching, and regular training.  A skimpy development budget leads to staff burnout and turnover. Tools that are inadequate or break down lead to oversights, mistakes, and frustrations.  And lack of time and resources to seek professional development training or guidance from a qualified consultant means that you’re not playing your best game.
  • Fundraising and baseball require constant moves to make progress. Homeruns are rare. Most often we must progress methodically from base to base, acknowledging setbacks along the way, before we make it to home plate and score.

Now that we’ve set the playing field, let’s imagine you have a first-time donor “at bat.” How do you move him or her around the bases in order to score?

  1. What’s on 1st BaseScreening & Validation
    Whether you received a first gift of $50 or $500, you need to learn more about your new donor. You’ll want to know who they are, where they live and work, how and why they made a gift — so you can move them to second base. Use technology tools combined with common sense to understand individuals and patterns in your data sets. And don’t forget renewing donors – they need periodic screening research every few years because circumstances can change.
  2. What’s on 2nd BaseEngagement
    Your next move is crucial and must be made before the donor’s impulse to support your organization has waned. Thank you notes are de rigueur, starting with an immediate auto-response or mail-merged acknowledgment. But use the occasion to go further — a handwritten note, a small token gift, or a phone call from a board member. Consider inviting the donor into a giving circle or offering benefits according to gift size or the donor’s potential — branded gifts, a video tour of your facility or activity, Lunch-and-Learn sessions with key leaders, program directors, artists, or clients. Where it’s appropriate, invite donors to volunteer with your organization. Get them onto the home team and they’ll want to play ball with you again and again!
  3. What’s on 3rd BaseStewardship & Cultivation Plan
    Get creative with donor engagement opportunities so your organization remains top-of-mind. Send frequent communications, steward select individuals or companies to underwrite a program, sponsor a special event, or even join a gala committee. Who knows? You might even identify a potential board candidate or a leader for your young professionals group.
  4. What’s on Home PlateA Score, of course!
    If you’ve moved your donor around the bases, you’re in a good position for upgraded or recurring contributions. But don’t let a pause in contributions get you down. Keep moving your donors through the stewardship cycle and some lapsed donors will surprise you. Like a comeback kid, they may return with annual gifts and even a campaign or planned gift when the timing is right.

Have a good fundraising season. Work thoughtfully and strategically to get all your donors to hit doubles or triples, and once in a while they may even hit a home run. And while you’re working hard, don’t forget to give your team a well-deserved Seventh Inning Stretch!