Andy Jones’ Nonprofit Fundraising – It’s a Marathon is one expert’s take on how to think about the raising of money. Here’s what Andy has to share:
I recently completed my first marathon. I learned some important life lessons through the training process. My only regret about the process was not having started sooner. I’m in my mid-forties and my body is not as easy to train as it used to be. Nevertheless, it is the most significant physical accomplishment of my life.
As crazy as it may sound to you that I willingly choose to run 26.2 miles, you should know that it also sounds crazy to most people when you tell them you have chosen to be a professional fundraiser. It’s not for everybody. During my final weeks of training, I realized that a number of things I’ve learned through my training experience are true when it comes to raising funds for a nonprofit.
Here are three things I learned about fundraising from training for a marathon:
I didn’t start by trying to run 26.2 miles. My first run was 1 mile. Even now, I mentally break my marathon runs into two-mile segments. It’s hard to fortify yourself for 26.2 miles. It’s easier to focus on just two miles at a time. Every time I complete a two-mile segment, I reward myself with either a drink or an energy gel pack. I am able to tackle the larger task by thinking of it in small achievable steps.
Every year, fundraisers stare at the total amount of funds they need to raise. The size of your budget doesn’t matter. It still looms and weighs heavily upon you. At times, it can seem unattainable. Remember, you don’t have to raise it all in one month or with one campaign. Instead, break it down into smaller achievable segments.
For example, suppose your organization needs to raise $500,000 this year. That’s a lot of money! Try breaking it into smaller portions and reward yourself when you raise each portion. Treat yourself to a cupcake or a donut. Thinking small makes the large goal manageable and enables you to have a better sense of the progress you are making.
Embrace the suck.
I discovered the military training concept known as “embrace the suck” while listening to a podcast during a run. The concept is to acknowledge the unpleasant aspects of your current experience rather than dismiss them. When I run, I get tired. After running for three hours, my body sends me signals that it is no longer having a good time. This is when I choose to embrace the suck. When things get unpleasant, I like to let out a loud groan that those nearby can hear. It’s my way of embracing the suck while receiving odd glances from others.
There are aspects of fundraising that are unpleasant. It can be a grind and like running, negativity starts mounting. Instead of trying to dismiss it or ignore it, embrace it. You may be frustrated by an unresponsive donor. You may be worn out from trying to get people to sign up for your next event. Your feelings and frustrations are real!
I’m not suggesting you need to spontaneously groan in the office — but you need to find some way to process the unpleasantness. Take a ten-minute walk, do some pushups, or call a friend who’ll let you cry on their shoulder. Every job has its unpleasant aspects. You can’t control everything that happens during the course of a day or week. You can only control how you respond to these events. Don’t downplay or dismiss these feelings. Acknowledge these emotions and find constructive ways to process them. Embrace the suck.
I have found a very effective way to reach goals. Let everyone know about them. In 2021, I used my social media to let people know that my goal was to run the distance of a half marathon at least twenty-one times by the end of the year. Every time I completed one of these runs, I posted a picture from it on social media. I wanted the pressure that came from the expectations I had set. People knew about my goal and asked me about my progress throughout the year. The public nature of my goal had created its own form of accountability.
We all need accountability, especially fundraisers. Some people think of accountability as inherently negative, which is unfortunate. Accountability is simply a way for others to help us focus and stay encouraged in our work. It can take different forms. Consider hanging a progress bar on an office wall that you fill in as gifts arrive, or having a brief weekly meeting with a coworker to track progress, make goals, and strategize .
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been raising money for fifteen weeks or fifteen years. You need people who will help you keep your eye on the prize and celebrate milestones with you along the way. You need accountability because it’s a necessary part of anything worth doing.
I’m going to let you in on a secret: I’m not a natural runner. I didn’t start running until three years ago. I had to train myself to run. You may not be a natural fundraiser or you may be new to it. All you need is some training. You need to set goals, make a plan, and create time in your schedule to execute. Like running, there’s also a significant mental component to fundraising. You won’t reach goals without confidence in your abilities.
You won’t regret getting started on reaching your goals. Think small, embrace the suck, and be accountable. When you do, you’ll see your goals slowly getting closer.
Andy Jones is the Founder and Managing Director of Roundtree, an agency helping nonprofits improve their relationships with donors through clear and consistent communications.
Andy Jones’ Nonprofit Fundraising – It’s a Marathon was first posted at INSIDE CHARITY