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Depending on your sport of choice, there are different ways to improve. For example, as a tall swimmer in high school, learning better technique was how I improved. As soon as I refined my stroke in a way that took advantage of my height, I propelled myself (pun intended) to qualify for more challenging heats, and win more races. I could have practiced constantly, but without a great technique, I likely wouldn’t have gotten much faster.
Of course, the main avenue to improvement varies by sport. In many, it’s about technique, but in others it’s pure endurance. Still others require building more muscle and strength. Though all of these factors are important, there’s often a primary one that can take take an athlete — and a fundraising program — from good to great.
Recently, I was talking with a client to examine and optimize their largest peer-to-peer fundraising event and she said something that struck me:
“It’s like we’re all paddling as hard as we can, but we’re all paddling in different directions, so we haven’t really moved from where we’ve been.”
Everyone on their team is well-meaning, talented, and passionate. They're all great fundraising athletes, you could say. And, they’re all aligned to the mission of the organization. If you’re following the metaphor, their alignment puts them all in the same boat, and they’re each paddling with all their might. But, because the marketing team is paddling towards a different horizon than the leadership team, the boat – and their event – is at a stand still.
In social change, it’s easy to focus on brute strength and practice. We think that if we just work harder, longer, faster, and better, we’ll see higher revenue outcomes and thus more impact. But, our recommendation in this situation isn’t to pour more resources into marketing, enabling the marketing team to paddle harder and faster. Instead, we’ll take a step back and look at the direction in which the marketing team is headed. Are they moving toward "brand awareness island" while the leadership team is headed straight for "the gulf of revenue growth?"
If you’re feeling like your program is at a stand still, responding to the waves going by, but not really moving forward — take a step back. Spend some time examining the destination that your program is intended to reach. Does it exist to rally advocates or perhaps to provide a space for the community to come together? Did you start the program to diversify your revenue or to reach a new audience?
Next, focus on aligning everyone in your organization – not just your core team – on the purpose of your program. For instance, have conversations with the marketing team so that they’re able to understand that while getting to brand awareness island is a necessary to bring us closer to revenue growth, reaching the gulf of revenue growth is the final destination, and the overall purpose of the program.
And above all, enjoy the journey.