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Four Traits of Winning Teams

The NCAA women’s and men’s basketball tournaments are sweeping the country this month. As we cheer on our team (Go Bucks!), we notice parallels between what it takes for a basketball team to win it all and what it takes for your fundraising team to lead a successful campaign. Whether made up of athletes or fundraisers, winning teams have endured months of preparation and hard work to get to this big moment. It’s not always easy, but with a solid plan, consistent practice, great players, and perhaps a little luck, even an underdog can make it to the big dance.

Through all of this, there are four key factors (or values) that drive winning teams to victory—on and off the court. As you prepare for your campaign, make sure that these traits are in your playbook.

Four Traits:

1. Commitment to Quality

A champion basketball team is deeply committed to high performance. These athletes are passionate about the journey to the Final Four and proudly sport their team’s name on their jerseys. They do not let an early season loss define them. For a campaign team, this is akin to committing to a long process. It’s about creating a high-quality campaign strategy and sticking to the plan. For example, if a donation comes in lower than expected, you reflect on what happened, don’t despair, make the necessary changes, and stay the course over time. You want to work hard because the hard work will pay off.

2. Continuous Improvement

Champions are always looking for ways to hone their skills and strategies. They watch and rewatch game film and study game stats—their own team as well as their peers. Someone who exemplifies this trait is likely a “gym rat”—the first to practice and the last to leave. In a campaign, this trait may show up as a commitment to lifelong learning, for example, studying emerging trends in donor recognition and updating your stewardship policies accordingly. Continuous improvement means learning, applying, testing, analyzing, and then repeating that process throughout your campaign. You schedule regular campaign meetings with staff to discuss the latest trends, approaches, and successes.

3. Authenticity

A championship team knows how, when, and where to flex their strengths. The skilled point guard dribbles and passes to the tall center who posts up for the dunk. Switch these roles, however, and the same play would not work as well. In a campaign, you position your case for support within the culture and mission of your organization. A glossy campaign brand may not work for a grassroots organization. A community-centric organization may find that a cause campaign is a better rallying metaphor, and donor recognition should be more democratic and less hierarchical. The development officer may be better at donor cultivation in a small group or one-on-one, rather than as the keynote speaker at gala. The key is to celebrate who you are (as an individual and as a team) and embrace your unique talents.

4. Can-Do Attitude

A champion hoops player knows they can win. They trust in their skills, their training, their team, and their coaches’ system to deliver victory. Likewise, as a successful fundraiser, you are confident that the campaign goal can be achieved because you believe in the mission, case for support, people, and plan for the work. Despite a few missed shots along the way, you and the team have a mindset of abundance that donations will come in if you trust the process.

By adopting these values—Commitment to Quality, Continuous Improvement, Authenticity, and Can-Do Attitude—you and your team will be in position to ‘win’ your big campaign. And most importantly, when you win, the communities you serve win, too. Now that’s something to celebrate. 

joined Benefactor Group with over ten years of experience in non-profit fundraising, operations, and management.

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