Friday, July 13, 2012

Fundraising and Coaching

Even though during football season I am a NFL fanatic, I love non-mainstream sports. The Olympics provide a great opportunity to indulge in viewing these unique endeavors. Beach volleyball, archery, luge, curling, modern pentathlon/biathlon/triathlon and others are a nice diversion from the highly commercialized core professional sports. I also catch myself pausing while surfing TV channels at up-and-comers in the popularity category such as women's college basketball. But the growing popularity of women's basketball has a backstory. Women's basketball has reached a level of interest, and I dare say legitimacy on the back of one incredible coach -- Pat Summitt of the University of Tennessee.

What does this have to do with fundraising? Well, consultant Jason McNeal of Gonser Gerber Tinker Stuhr, LLP and author of the wonderful blog The Far Edge of Promise, provided this thoughtful post recently: Donor Engagement as Coaching.

This month Coach Summitt received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2012 ESPY awards. She recently retired but not until she racked up these unbelievable statistics:

  • 1,098 wins - the most ever by a Division I college basketball coach (men's or women's)
  • 16 conference titles
  • 8 national championships
  • 12 Olympians
And perhaps most extraordinarily, 100 percent graduation rate for all Lady Vols who have completed their eligibility at Tennessee.

See the moving ESPY award tribute to Coach Summitt here

She was known as a tough coach holding her athletes to incredibly high athletic and personal standards. Many a teammate was brought to tears by her pointed rebukes or stern admonitions. Yet, as Jason brings out in his blog, many of her players claim they would run through a wall for "coach". 

To quote Jason's post:
"...what struck me as I watched the video were the many student-athletes she coached talk about (and to) her about what a positive difference she made in their development as people and in their lives generally, far beyond the basketball court. More than one of her players made the tearful statement: "I wouldn't be the woman I am today if not for you." 
What a legacy. What an impact. What a life's work."
Jason goes on to comment about how might we, as fundraising professionals, view ourselves. Do we see our job to be a solicitor or even a facilitator? Are we simply extracting money from our supporters? Or, as what made Coach Summitt a "life-changer" for her basketball players, do we really care about our donors? Really, really care and take the time to understand the donor's needs, aspirations and goals.

Again, to quote Jason:
"Just like Coach Summit, we ask donors every day to help our institutions succeed. And when we know our institution's donors well enough to inspire them and challenge them, we have the opportunity to be more than a solicitor or a facilitator. When our donors know that we care for them as people first and donors second, we have the chance to become a coach. And, then, we have an opportunity to help change their lives."