The Keys To Good Fundraising Found In An Unusual Place

In life, we often find unexpected connections in the most unlikely places. My recent journey from a non-profit organization to water aerobics has taught me valuable lessons about building relationships, and the principles I've learned in the pool also apply to the world of fundraising.

My decision to embark on a fitness journey came after leaving my job and realizing I needed to shed some excess weight accumulated over a challenging period. Ankle surgeries, a newfound passion for baking during the pandemic, and the demands of my former job had taken a toll on my health. Traditional cardio workouts were not an option due to my ankle issues, so I found myself in the world of water aerobics. Little did I know what I was getting into.

In my mind, water aerobics was all about graceful swim caps and elegant water ballet. However, I found a group of determined women of a certain age who were committed to their health and fitness. There was no grace here; it was all about vigorous engagement with the water, using water weights and noodles in ways I had never imagined. I was the only male in the class, notably younger, struggling to keep up. I sensed some skepticism from the group at first. They welcomed me politely, but I could tell they wondered if I would stick around.

With perseverance, I continued the water aerobics journey, and 25 pounds lighter, I became fully accepted by the group. I even received the ultimate recognition when I was called out during a game of water dodger ball with a resounding, "Let's Go, Girls!" It was in that moment that I knew I had become one of them.

Now, you might be wondering how water aerobics relates to the world of fundraising.

Fundraising, at its core, is all about building and nurturing relationships. These relationships can be real or perceived. A real relationship is akin to a person's bond with their alma mater or when they support a cause closely linked to a personal or familial issue. On the other hand, perceived relationships are formed when the struggles of others move you, or you wish to contribute to addressing a societal or cultural challenge.

Regardless of the type, establishing a connection is crucial to fundraising. Just like my journey in water aerobics, it's easy to get it wrong. Fundraisers must find ways to bridge the gap between their mission and the perspective of potential donors. It's about building a bridge of understanding and shared purpose.

Here are some key takeaways from my experience in water aerobics that can be applied to the world of fundraising:

Perseverance Pays Off: Just as I had to persevere in water aerobics to gain acceptance, fundraisers should be persistent in building relationships with potential donors. Don't be discouraged by initial skepticism or challenges; keep working towards your goals. Be

Open to Change: I had to change my expectations and adapt to the reality of water aerobics. Similarly, fundraisers should be open to adjusting their strategies and messages to better resonate with donors. The ability to adapt and evolve is crucial.

Shared Purpose: In water aerobics and fundraising, success comes with a shared purpose. Find ways to connect your cause to the values and interests of your donors. Show them how they can make a meaningful impact.

Patience is Key: Building strong relationships takes time. Just as I needed time to earn the trust and acceptance of my water aerobics group, fundraisers should be patient and invest in the long-term cultivation of donor relationships.

In conclusion, the unexpected connection I found in water aerobics taught me valuable lessons about building relationships, which can be applied to the world of fundraising. Bridging the gap between your mission and the perspective of potential donors is essential. It may be challenging, but it's gratifying in the end, just like my journey in the water. So, whether in the pool or the fundraising world, remember that perseverance, adaptability, shared purpose, and patience are key to success, along with a good pair of goggles.


Some thoughtful insights into the current theater situation.  Just an opinion for late Summer.

Subscribe Now! by Danny Newman (which, for some reason, is still in print) changed the landscape of regional theaters in 1977, and theaters never looked back. They had found the holy grail of funding, so why would you assume anything would change? In case you need to become more familiar with the book, Mr. Newman laid out a plan to encourage theater patrons to pre-purchase a year's worth of tickets, often tied to specific nights. So, on the third Thursday of a month, far in the future, you, the patron, were committing to attending whatever happened to be playing at the theater. There were variations on the plan, but the basics were money first and theater second.

This scheme allowed theaters the resources to hire staff and plan the year's productions. Basically, it spent money it had not earned yet. In fact, the accounting procedures required that the subscription income be divided into individual productions and only spent on the expenses associated with each show. But there are many ways to get around or entirely ignore those rules. I have heard of and known more than one theater that used too much money on that "ground-breaking" new musical and reconceived revival of a seminal play.

Another problem used to be over-subscribing combined with the above spending pattern. I ran the box office many years ago at a summer theater that over-subscribed or presold all the seats for every production month in advance. The seats were full when the shows opened, and the cash register was empty. The Managing Director was in a panic. There was no cash flow since the subscription money was basically gone.

So what could have been done? Well, the writing was on the wall for many years that subscription income was sinking lower and lower each year. As a fundraiser, more emphasis could have been put on individual giving. They were helping theatergoers buying single tickets understand that it took far more than their ticket price to produce the production and support the organization. At the same time, accepting that subscription was a dying form. With that in mind, while maintaining the artistic vision of the organization, understanding that "bigger" art is not the answer to enticing lapsed subscription buyers back into the fold.

Let alone the corporatization of art organizations has caused many more issues, but that is a different post. Here is a NYT article that might be of interest -

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