How to make your fundraising results compound…

I was recently told an illuminating story about the legendary basketball coach, Pat Riley, widely regarded as one of the most successful coaches of all time. (Attention, if you’re more interested in growing your fundraising success than basketball, I promise the basketball bit of this will be both brief and relevant.)

Apparently, in one exhausting season Riley’s team had made it all the way to the finals, but lost in the last moments of the last game. Everyone felt gutted at losing the title. Apparently, Riley talked to his mentor that evening about his plan that the team would come out the next season and train as twice as hard as they had this season. The mentor advised against it, saying that the exhausted athletes would rebel. It’s hard to be asked to give even more when you feel like you’ve already given your all.

Instead, he advised the coach to use his pre-season meeting to ask the team to become just 1% better in each of the five key skill areas of basketball (shooting, passing, defense etc). He pointed out that being asked to just find a 1% improvement in a specific area stimulates motivation in an entirely different way.  In practice, most players ended up achieving improvements of more than 1% in most areas, but more importantly, all those small gains compounded to achieve a far greater team improvement than just 1%.

Multiplying small wins in fundraising

Similarly, on Day 4 of the Corporate Mastery Programme recently, the group were talking about the progress they had made. For example, one participant from a small charity, Stuart, said that in the first 3 months of the programme he had raised all of his 12 month target budget, and on the Major Gifts Mastery Programme, Caroline from Action against Hunger described how she had recently achieved her biggest ever gift, worth £300,000. When both were asked how they had achieved these impressive feats, they said it was really hard to boil their victories down to any one technique. They felt it was lots of small things that had combined to make such progress possible.

And this is how human progress in any field, from basketball to fundraising, tends to work. Rather than one brilliant training session, awesome pitch or breakthrough that transforms our results, the truth is that improved results and confidence tend to come as a result of many small-seeming things that combine. The two most important words in that last sentence – the ones that hold the magic of the compounding effect, are small and combine.

There are inches all around us.

Too often we fail to make progress because we believe the lie that success comes from one big leap forward, and so we search for that (and fail to find it). (A key reason for this failure is our amygdala, a part of our brain that helps control the fear response, freaks out when it perceives we’re being asked to make too big a change). And then, discouraged, we miss the many small things we could have been doing to make steady (but multiplying) progress each day.

If you really search for them there are dozens of small things you can do to improve your results in an area that directly affects your fundraising results. For example, when Dan Mcnally and his colleagues in the excellent community fundraising team at BHF organised Cuppa and Conversation, (an internal bingo game designed to make it easier to get out the office and into more ‘cup of coffee’ chats with supporters) they used a bingo card showing 25 different reasons / ways to meet to chat. The initiative was a huge success. Everyone experienced a lift in energy as a result of getting out more to connect with people who care about the cause. It achieved a radical uplift in their number of meetings (up to an average of 12 supporter chats / month), and these extra meetings had a tangible impact on financial results – eg it led to five new charity of the year partnerships in the first month alone.

If you are searching for an improvement in your fundraising results, here is how you could make use of the compound effect:

  • Decide on one (two, or three) areas of your job which absolutely help drive results. You could call them Key Results Areas. In and of themselves, these things are not income, but the more you achieve in these areas, the easier it will be to increase income. For example, two of the key ones we focus on in the Major Gifts Mastery Programme are a) your skill and confidence when meeting supporters (to improve your ‘YES’ rate); and b) the number of meetings / conversations / ‘cups of coffee’ you are having with potential and existing supporters.
  • Focus more energy, creativity and determination on improving in these few key result areas by as little as 5 or 10%.

When you focus on securing achievable progress in any specific area, you will find there are always things you can do. For example, on the Fundraiser’s Meeting Checklist that we use in our programmes, there are 9 different skill areas within a meeting with a supporter, and each of them can be improved with a just little preparation / practice.

One of the most interesting and important elements of the compound effect is that left to our own devices, we tend to underestimate the power of small actions. It is very easy to think ‘what difference will it make?’. The graph below reminds us that often it takes a while for the blue line (your results) to start to go up and reward you for your efforts.

Small improvements, over time, compound to generate large increases in results.

And yet the power of the compound effect is that if you can find the discipline to consistently focus on achieving small improvements (eg in how well you listen / how skilful you are at inviting your donor to agree to a quick catch up / how well you bring your cause to life in concrete ways etc), those small shifts multiply to produce a much bigger difference in your bottom line results.
Want to increase income in high value, corporate or individual giving fundraising?

You can find out more about how the Major Gifts, and Corporate Partnerships help you implement the compound effect and other strategies by following these links.