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Slowly but surely: Fundraising really is like a marathon

Growing up, I had the joy of sharing every birthday with my Dad. For as long as I can remember, April 7 was our day. Until it wasn’t. Dad was 65 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. For six years he lived bravely and with good humour with this horrible and debilitating neurological disease, before we lost him in 2019. April 7 hasn’t really been the same since.  So this year I decided to shake things up and challenge myself to run a marathon on my birthday.

Over my twenty years as a fundraiser, I’ve said many, many times to clients and teams I’ve worked with, “Good fundraising is a marathon, not a sprint”.  The meaning behind this phrase is, of course, that best-practice fundraising takes time, and cannot be rushed or done quickly.When I ran my first marathon it occurred to me just how true this sentiment is, especially when it comes to comprehensive campaigns. Both of these long-distance feats require meticulous preparation, unwavering commitment, and strategic execution.

Strong foundations

A comprehensive campaign is much more than just raising funds. It’s about transforming the lives of organisations, their stakeholders and beneficiaries – long term. Just as you wouldn't jump straight into a marathon without training, a comprehensive campaign needs a solid foundation. You don’t have to have everything in place, but you need to know your strengths and weaknesses. Before I started my marathon journey I was a fair-weather runner. I usually ran a couple of times a week, but could easily not run if I had a reason to do something else. I’m a slow runner, and often the difference between a good run or not, was in my head. I knew I’d have to build mental strength as much as anything to achieve my goal.

Similarly when we work with any new clients at DGB, one of the earliest things we do is undertake a Readiness Review. This allows us to honestly and objectively identify their strengths and where they’ll need to focus their efforts and build capacity in the comprehensive campaign journey. At this point, we need to know what we’re working with.

Planning and commitment

In marathon training, you create a training plan that gradually increases distance and intensity, while through the Preparatory Phase of a comprehensive campaign you need to establish your fundraising goals, research potential donors and craft a compelling case for support. Both require upfront planning and a commitment to the long haul.

Both journeys will see setbacks as well as glimpses of early success. I got COVID-19 about halfway through my training program so had to take some time out from running, and through a campaign you may have periods of stagnation and need to motivate teams and even your Board.

However, at times I delighted in attaining personal bests just as you’ll have joyous moments when you connect with incredible voluntary leaders or secure early gifts. It’s important you celebrate these milestones, big and small, to maintain momentum and morale for both yourself and your team.

Reaching your goal

People sometimes say that the real work in a marathon is completed in the training, race day is really just the party. (If that’s the case, I must say for me, it wasn’t the most fun party I’ve ever been to, but, I digress.) The crowd’s cheering plus the quiet knowledge that you did that hard work in the lead up to that day, helps you persevere through the waves of elation and exhaustion over the 42kms.

The final push of a comprehensive campaign is similar. After securing your leadership gifts, you'll be focusing on the last donations to reach your target goal. Both require perseverance, a strategic use of remaining resources, and the unwavering belief that you can achieve your goal.

Recovery and Reflections

In the days after crossing the marathon finish line, aside from being a little stiff and sore, it's a time for reflection. You'll analyse your training, identify areas for improvement, and celebrate your accomplishment usually by wearing your finisher’s medal proudly for days. Likewise, when your campaign reaches its goal, celebrate your efforts, thank your donors, assess what worked well, and learn from any challenges.

Personally, I had three key reflections that may serve as good reminders for anyone undertaking a campaign – or if you want to run a marathon!

1. It’s a team effort

My marathon journey wouldn’t have been possible without a few key people around me. My partner, an avid marathoner himself, acted as my coach and mentor; planning the road with me and literally running it alongside me on race day. My osteopath ensured I was physically able to stay the course, ensuring any muscle niggles were taken care of before they became an issue. And importantly the belief and support of my friends and family.

Your campaign will be the same. You need Board buy-in and commitment to help with any issues as they arise, voluntary leadership and donor belief and likely an agency who can steer you in the right direction and be there beside you for the ride.

2. Keep your end goal in mind

Whether it’s $42 million or 42 kms it’s important to remind yourself of the end goal. Consider it regularly and break it down into smaller pieces so it becomes achievable. It will likely be daunting, but the more you become comfortable with it, the more belief you’ll have.

3. Know your why

For me, there were a few reasons I decided to run a marathon, but one of my biggest motivations was to do so in memory of my Dad. When I’d found out that the Paris marathon was on April 7, it seemed serendipitous. I raised over $2,000 for Shake it Up Australia to aid their efforts in funding research to slow, stop and cure Parkinson’s disease. Training for a marathon was going to be tough, but it was nothing compared to Dad’s Parkinson’s journey. He was my inspiration.

What’s at the heart of your campaign? Who is going to be positively impacted? Whether it be people living with a particular health condition, at-risk young people needing a roof over their heads or restoring and protecting the habitats of endangered native animals – knowing your why will keep you pushing through when things get tough.

4. It can actually be transformational

One of the greatest benefits to have come out of my marathon journey is the good habits I’ve built. While the chance of me running another marathon is slim, I enjoy running regularly and have a stronger belief in my ability to do so.

For some organisations, a comprehensive campaign might be a once-in-a-lifetime event but the transformational benefits can be long-lasting. You’ll have built great relationships with your donors, old and new, and you need to continue best-practice donor stewardship to ensure they endure.

So, for anyone wanting to undertake a comprehensive campaign, the important thing is to make steady progress and think about things over the long term, rather than expending all your energy for a short-term result. And remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Bianca Crocker (DGB Campaigns Director)

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