In winning the UK’s football Premiership for the first time in 132 years, Leicester City FC pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sporting history. They started as relegation-likely, 5000 to 1 outsiders, and made the ultimate come-back to see off their more famous and wealthy rivals and produce a fairy-tale ending.
Whether or not you are a football (or Leicester) fan, this story is instructive for anyone who is struggling against difficult odds. So what lessons can a determined fundraiser take from these giant-killers?
1. Embrace (and find) the advantage of being an under-dog. After a dreadful season last year, Leicester had been written off. And their manager Claudio Ranieri had been sacked four months into his previous job managing the Greek national team, after defeat to the Faroe Islands. And yet they found a team spirit, work ethic and strategy not just in spite of, but because of the adversity they faced.
If right now your job is hard because you work for a less attractive cause or don’t have the resources of your competitors, or if you have personally faced a setback or criticism, then take heart from Leicester’s example. If they can play David and comprehensively overcome their better resourced Goliaths, why shouldn’t you?
Actually, all fundraisers (and all charities) are under-dogs, because we are trying to change the status quo and to overcome enemies like apathy and cynicism. You can either succumb to what is so hard about your job right now, or understand that, as Malcolm Gladwell notes, when they triumph, there is always a pattern to the way in which underdogs defy the odds. If you have no interest in sport, look elsewhere. Every field has underdogs who regularly defy the odds, by a) genuinely believing they can turn things around and b) being willing to do things that their comfortable Goliath opponents don’t do.
2. Focus is power. One thing in Leicester’s favour was that unlike most of their rivals, they were not distracted by goals other than winning the Premiership. This will be harder for them next season as they play in the Champion’s League, but for much of this season they were able to focus all their energies on just one important goal.
I still remember when Lois Wolffe of the National Library of Scotland, fed back to the rest of the group on the Major Gifts Mastery Programme that in the last month she had secured face to face meetings with 56 wealthy donors and potential donors! Yes, you read that number correctly. Her achievement was testament to a number of skills, but the most important was the ability to say no to less important objectives and just focus on ‘booking test drives’. Several goals are important for determined major donor fundraisers, but none is more important than getting in front of your donors.
3. Take one game at a time. Leicester were ahead for most of the season and for many unfancied contenders this causes ‘the choke’. Though the expectation was huge for months, they somehow managed to not get ahead of themselves, just do their job every day as well as they could.
One of the most common errors I have found in fundraisers is the tendency to spend too much time focusing on their long-term hopes with trusts / donors / companies.
The legendary basketball coach John Wooden produced such extraordinarily successful teams because he helped his players view success in terms of how much effort you put in today (both in training or on a game day), rather than the score on the board.
A great question to ask is ‘how could I help this donor have a fantastic and rewarding event / conversation with me today?’ If you get better and better at answering this question, then more and more donors will agree to one more event / project visit / cup of coffee. And if you do this, then like for Leicester, these consistent small results will compound. Sooner or later some donors will trust you so much as to make very valuable gifts to your charity.
Would you like to increase Major Donor income? The early bird discount (saving £500) for the Major Gifts Mastery Programme is available now.