Why successful fundraising must be a team sport

March 20, 2019



Normally, I’m the last person to use a sports analogy – despite being surrounding by sports-loving family and friends, my most recent claim to fame is asking how many periods are left to go in the baseball game.


But “fundraising is a team sport” is an analogy that feels particularly relevant right now – because lately, I’ve seen too many cases of non-profits getting in the way of their own fundraising success with less than sportsperson-like behaviour.


Here’s a few examples that may feel familiar:


Boards who take no ownership of fundraising investment or outcomes, and instead point the finger at staff when results are lacklustre.


Fundraisers squabbling over donors, and which department gets credit for a gift.


Program staff withholding crucial information about possible giving opportunities because fundraising “isn’t their job.”


It’s time to say, ENOUGH!


If we’re going to succeed in meeting our ambitious goals and raising the crucial funds we need to meet our mission, it’s time to come together and start pulling in the same direction.


Here are three valuable lessons from team sports that will help you hit your fundraising goals right outta the park!


1. Recognize that every single team member plays a crucial role in your success


From the coach to the goalie to the Zamboni driver, every member of your team plays a unique role in your fundraising success (if you’ve ever tried skating on rough ice, you’ll know what I mean!)


Do you take time to value every contribution, and celebrate the way your amazing teamwork helped secure that big gift, or launched your most success year end campaign yet?


This can be as simple as getting in the habit of naming and recognizing the contribution of each person on your team. The flip side of this is moving away from over-crediting one person or team – often the point person for the donor, or the final closer of the gift (I’m saying this with love to all my fellow major gift fundraisers out there – let’s actively share the credit with our teams!).


2. Invest in training for the season ahead


You’d never see an Olympic hockey great like Hayley Wickenheiser heading into a season without doing some serious dryland training to prepare her to win gold.


So why are fundraisers expected to constantly raise their game and achieve bigger goals without the right coaching and training?


Investment in the right professional development can have a huge ROI for your organization.


If you’re leading a team, make sure you’re advocating for a good professional development budget. And if you’re a fundraiser entering into a new role, don’t forget to negotiate for your own training budget (and watch out if the organization has no interest or “can’t afford” to invest in skills development for their fundraisers – that’s a big red flag right there.)


3. Help team members manage their mindset and overcome their fear


A big part of success in sports, team or otherwise, is learning to manage your emotions, and change your mindset.


Fear can be a big barrier to taking the action you need to achieve your fundraising goals – and great teams work together to create a sense of psychological safety.


Setting a stretch goal that pushes you out of your comfort zone can sometimes be a mighty powerful tool for both personal and fundraising growth – but organizations and teams need to support the risk of setting a stretch goal by ensuring fundraisers won’t get punished if they don’t achieve it.


Do you have any wisdom to share with other readers about the kind of teamwork that’s led to some big fundraising wins for your cause? Leave a comment below – and GOOOOOOOO TEAM!




Emma Lewzey, CFRE is an award-winning fundraiser who has been helping great causes like yours build and grow successful fundraising programs since 1995. She’s the President-Elect of the world’s largest Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Chapter in Toronto, and the National Chair of AFP’s Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy. Contact Emma to book your free discovery session, and find out how you can work together to strategically focus your precious resources on the fundraising initiatives that truly work.

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