David and Goliath – ideas for fundraisers who need to DEFY the odds, (inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s book)

I will be teaching how to apply SEVEN easy-to-apply strategies to help any under-dog beat its Goliath and raise more money, in my session David and Goliath at the IOF Convention on Wed 9th July.


Recently I witnessed an amazing game of tennis. Nick Kyrgios, the 19 year old Australian, ranked 144 in the world, emphatically out-gunned Rafael Nadal, ranked World Number 1. The media commentators talked about how unlikely the victory had been. Before the match even Kyrgios’ mother she didn’t believe he would win. Only one person seemed unsurprised that Kyrgios had beaten Nadal.


That person was Nick Kyrgios. In the post-match interview he was calm and unfazed. And he told the reporter ‘you’ve got to believe you can win from the start, and I did’.


Every charity is an under-dog and has giants to overcome. Even the biggest charity brands (some of whom you may feel represent Goliath when you’re competing for the same donor’s support), are themselves under-dogs in the face of Cancer or Social Injustice etc. So anyone who works for a charity, and especially anyone who is determined to succeed in fundraising, should benefit from reading the fascinating new book by Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath, underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants.


This is not just a series of clichéd stories of Rocky-type little guys who keep getting up and sooner or later win through in spite of the punches they’re taking. The book is inspiring because it debunks myths about how we traditionally think about Advantage and Disadvantage, and through this re-framing, helps us dare to re-evaluate our own options for handling the Giants we face.


In interviewing dozens of very successful fundraisers over the past ten years, I have found that victory does not always go to the apparently large, strong or well-resourced. Gladwell’s ideas have helped me understand why it is that in fundraising, even if you feel sometimes feel like the under-dog, like Nick Kyrgios did, your Goliath can be beaten more often than you might think.


Look at the story differently. Gladwell starts by re-framing what happened in the valley of Elah in the 11th century BC. The man-mountain Goliath expected an opponent from the Israelite side to face him in hand to hand combat. In modern language, the phrase David and Goliath usually means an unlikely win for a plucky under-dog. But Gladwell shows us that the moment the shepherd boy David stepped up, and refused to play the orthodox game (he kept well back from Goliath) he was in fact far more likely to win. From a distance, the lumbering, armour-encumbered giant was a sitting duck for the skilful operator of a sling-shot – the ballistics expert Eitan Hirsch, estimates that at a range of 35 yards the stone would have hit Goliath’s temple with the power of a modern day hand-gun.


Political Scientist Arreguin-Toft studied all the wars over the past two hundred years and found that when a country that is 10 times smaller than its opponent, refuses to fight in the orthodox way – ie it fights like David – it in fact wins 63.6% of the time.


If you feel like an under-dog fundraiser, you cannot afford to act like other fundraisers. You have to be smart enough, and hungry enough to do what most are unwilling to do.


1) Do not be distracted by the apparent might of any Big Name charity you find yourself competing with. From the start, Kyrgios believed he could win. When they applied to be the Charity of the Year of Nomura (worth at least £1m), St Giles Trust, pitching against household names such as Great Ormond Street Hospital, focussed solely on the job, not their competitors. They won.


As Gary Player said ‘play the golf course, not the other golfers’. The moment you take even 1% of your focus off this task, by fearing the unjust might of your opponents, you will take resources away from your job of convincing the donor that to support you will solve their problems.


2) Hard as well as smart. I have heard many senior managers tell their troops to work smarter not harder. Laurence of Arabia’s dessert nomads and indeed guerrilla fighters everywhere often defy the apparent odds because they use different, unorthodox strategies. And if you feel like an under-dog, it is true that you have to be smart about what activities are most likely to have an impact for you. So yes, SMART is essential. But you have to work hard as well as, not instead of smart.


Not hard in the sense of going home late, but hard in the sense of what you’re prepared to DO, when you’re at work. If you consider yourself an underdog in anyway, then to succeed, you need to be willing to do things that normal fundraisers don’t do, such as:


For example, do donor tasks first, always. Do these proactive activities as a priority, every day. In the morning, straight away make calls to these greatest potential sources of increased support, as well as to your best future prospects. Most of your comfortable Goliath competitors lack the hunger to do this because it feels easier not to.


But when you find the drive to do what is necessary rather than what’s easy, amazing results are possible. For example, Lois Woolfe from the National Library of Scotland, who has just completed my Major Gift Mastery Programme, applied this strategy with amazing success – she secured 56 meetings with Very High Net Worth Individuals, prior to a trip to meet wealthy potential donors in Hong Kong.


And by tenaciously applying different, not ‘path-of-least-resistance’ strategies, Lucy Sargent and her team at Marie Curie Cancer Care have increased annual trusts income from £1m to at least £3.5m.


From interviewing dozens of other David’s who have defied the apparent odds, I have learned they are usually not extraordinary people. They tend to be normal people who choose to do certain things in an extraordinary way. I am certain that so can any of us, if we choose to play the game in this way.


I will be teaching how to apply SEVEN easy-to-apply strategies to help any under-dog beat its Goliath and raise more money, in my session David and Goliath at the IOF Convention on Wed 9th July.