Lessons from a track coach: create your own best conditions to win the fundraising race


I’ve written before about how lessons from my dad have influenced my thinking on fundraising. Last time it was through his love of fishing, and something my father loved equally was track and field. For more than 30 years he coached track and field at Colo-NESCO middle school in rural central Iowa. He endured sassy 12-year olds who didn’t want to practice baton handoffs again. He drove buses for hours and stoically stood in frigid cold, torrential downpours, and brutal spring heatwaves watching his teams strive for excellence with his stopwatch, whistle, and signature tan bucket hat.

Picture: When he retired from teaching and coaching, the district honored my father by naming their meet the Dave Robinson Relays.

With this example, it was fitting I eventually went on to work for Drake University – home of the world-famous Drake Relays. I know that whether they’re in middle school or professional phenoms on the Blue Oval at Drake, everyone wants to break a record. But it’s not always possible. Why? Because while dedication, training, strength, and sheer innate talent are all critical to excellence, so are the particular conditions of the day. The weather, the track surface, the mindset, the temperature, the wind, and more are all equal factors in whether records are broken, or a good race is run. If top tier athletes could always control the external factors of their race to have the most optimal conditions, sub-four-min miles would be a lot more common.

Our environmental conditions control our fundraising success.

Your major gift, development, engagement, or leadership annual giving officers are a lot like these athletes. They bring their skill, knowledge, intelligence, ingenuity, and experience to your organization. You’ve laid out the track and on paper the job is simple right? Work your portfolio, conduct outreach, qualify, visit, cultivate, and above all ask.

We can’t control everything in the fundraising world. We will always have less than ideal internal and external conditions that impact the quality of our work, day to day. But as fundraising leaders, we can work to improve the playing field for our teams. And that takes investment on several levels.

As a fundraising leader, you have the power to create better conditions for your team

It’s all about providing the right environment and tools fundraisers need to be successful. Here are a few things we’ve figured out that work:

  • Providing a blanket of omnichannel engagement over direct mail, text, phone, and email, you greatly increase the chance of annual giving success. We’ve seen 25x response from donors when they are engaged by 3 or more channels. It’s about doing this strategically, within your resources, to have the greatest impact.
  • By operationalizing portfolio management and outreach with a tool like RNL Leadership Giving powered by RNL Engage, you provide an even and predictable track. You clear fog and uncertainty by setting a simple cadence of outreach that allows progress to be made each day. It also gives you visibility as a leader to the team’s outreach and progress. Like a coach watching on the sidelines and providing critical direction and encouragement.
  • A giving day and cause-based engagement platform should also come with people who help, sort of like assistant coaches. That’s why RNL ScaleFunder comes with big support from a team of consultants. This means you’ll never be alone as you launch your special day, or crowdfunding cycle.

It’s about investing in setting the conditions for your team’s success, and these are some key ways to do that.

Fundraising is a tough relay, but improving the play field for our gift officers makes all the difference.

Like my Dad as a life-long track coach, and those elite athletes giving their all on the at the Drake Relays, there is much we can’t control in fundraising and philanthropy. That can feel scary, and frustrating, it can lead to inefficiencies and unfollowed leads at best and missed goals, burnout, and turnover at worst. Luckily, we have more power than coaches or athletes to change the weather or the surface of the track. We can invest in the tools and the strategies that make our staff shine and give each day the chance to be extraordinary in support of the missions of our organizations.

And remember, when in doubt – run fast, turn left. Keep on engaging.

The RNL Donor Pipeline is focused on putting the right conditions in place to help your outreach team, no matter the size, win on the playing field of annual, leadership and major gifts. Contact us today to talk about how you can give your team a boost with the platforms and people who can help them win.

What’s your best path to sustainable fundraising?

Let’s talk about how we can help you build a robust donor pipeline, engage the right donors at the right time, and chart a course to fundraising success year after year.

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