The crucial advice from a sports coach that helped me raise more money

In the summer of 2006 I played softball for my charity’s team in the London Charity Softball League. (If you’ve never seen a softball game, imagine the close cousin of baseball and rounders – hitting a ball to help your team score runs.) The second year I played, I asked someone who knew how to play to give us a quick coaching session, showing us how to bat, field etc,

While trying to master the skill of batting I told this coach, Mark, how hard I found it to stay relaxed and calmly hit the ball during the pressure of a game situation.

He said that obviously an element of batting is physical, but the larger part is mental. If you’re not careful, you risk focussing on one of two unhelpful things: a) what your ego DESIRES, ie to hit a home run / get the glory or b) what you most FEAR ie missing it completely / letting your team down etc. If you allow either of these two to be your focus when you step up to bat, you’ll probably miss.

Instead he told us to focus on ‘getting the bat on the ball and the ball in play.’

Can you see how this new focus / goal is a) more attainable than aiming for a home run each time and b) more confidence-inducing than trying to ‘not mess up’?

The result of this shift in focus…

I know this advice sounds obvious, but left to its own devices, the human brain often does not do what is obvious. And deliberately applying the advice made a huge difference to our ability to get lots of our runners on to bases and then keep nudging them round to score lots and lots of points. In fact, consistently applying this different strategy is one reason my team went on to win the League that year!

How this idea helps you raise more money

In her fascinating interview for the Bright Spot Members Club this month, executive coach Lara Roche explained how a great way to improve your confidence and results is to better understand your own Locus of Control.

Put simply, Rotter’s Locus of Control model suggests that the highest performers do so well in large part because they understand the difference between things they can control and things they can merely influence. We struggle in life if we allow our mental energy to be drawn to things which we have little control over.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Reinhold Niebuhr

In fundraising, it’s all too easy to inadvertently focus on the equivalent of the home run that your ego or your manager seem to be asking you to achieve. Especially if things aren’t going brilliantly and your team is under any pressure, we can focus our energy and desire on ‘getting the big gift’ / ‘winning a valuable corporate partnership’ / ‘getting the rotary club / school / church’ to support us. But if you ask yourself on a wet Monday morning how to get these very Big Wins Quickly, it becomes harder to get the smaller daily ideas and put in the consistent effort to build the relationships that over time do lead to the ‘Home Runs’ that you ultimately want.

So instead, the wise, productive thing to do is to focus on the equivalent of what my softball coach taught us. In many types of fundraising, an important answer to this question is ‘have more face to face conversations with the right kind of donor’.

I appreciate that, crucially, this better focus still feels difficult to most fundraisers, and they would say they are already ‘doing their best’ in this area. But in practice, the people who dramatically increase their high value fundraising results through the Major Donor Mastery Programme, (for example you can read here about Caroline Crowther generated her largest ever gift) do so in part by deliberately applying tactics which boost their results in this area. At the very least most people on this programme double the number of meetings they achieve with their supporters.

Just like in softball, when you focus on solving the right problems, even difficult challenges like persuading more donors to meet you become absolutely solvable. For instance, one tactic is to do what one fabulous fundraiser, Sarah Adwick did, and deliberately organise your event in a more strategic way, where everything you do is designed to help your attendees want to meet you for a follow up cup of coffee.

Another, as Dan helped his community team at British Heart Foundation to do, is to encourage and playfully reward problem-solving in the result-critical area. Within one month this increased the average number of meetings in the month to a magnificent 12 per person, and achieved a host of great results, including 4 new charity of the year partnerships in that first month alone. You can read how they achieved such fabulous success in their Cuppa and Conversation Bingo project here.

When you are focussing in the right areas, you discover there are dozens of ways you can improve results.  But the starting point is to deliberately identify and target those areas. Otherwise, in spite of all your hard work, there’s a strong chance you will swing and miss.

Curious about the Major Donors Mastery Programme or Corporate Mastery Programme?

For more information about our Mastery Programmes, or to apply for a free half hour coaching session, follow these links: Major Gifts Mastery Programme, or Corporate Partnership Mastery Programme.

Do you (or a friend) play softball?

If you know someone who is playing softball in this year’s Harris Hill Charity Softball League, I have this year helped to create the Softball Coaching Series, a set of free, short coaching films, with a new outstanding coach called Luke, to help improve key skills like batting, catching with a glove etc. You can follow this link to access the films, or forward it to a friend.