What the 2014 Winter Olympics can teach us about fundraising

The 2014 Winter Olympics are chock-full of stories of courage, peril, strength and even some comedy. Less reported are the fundraising lessons that organizations and non-profit professionals can learn from some of the Olympic athletes competing in Sochi.

I am not talking about the numerous sports analogies or motivational poster-like slogans that an event such as the Olympics could inspire (or possibly stifle). I am talking about the actual individual fundraising campaigns that several athletes had to undertake in order to even be able to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

There are many gurus out there in the peer-to-peer fundraising world that could extol on how Crowdrise, Kickstarter and Razoo are changing the funding landscape for both private and non-profit ventures. Peer-to-peer fundraising platforms indeed allow everyone to raise money for anything if people will fund it. I recently jokingly tweeted about a Crowdsourcing bubble when a gentleman started a Kickstarter campaign to buy a burrito  and I am not completely sure if I should be using “gentleman”  in the same sentence as “dude, give me money for a burrito.”


Anyway, I digress. The point is that no matter if you are launching an individual crowdfunding campaign, asking for a major gift in person, sending an email to a long-time member to renew their annual gift, what story is being told in those interactions is absolutely critical to the success of any of those interactions.


Because at our human core, we all want to hear a good story. And, ironically, the sheer volume of information overload now-a-days makes it even harder to find those good stories or have yours heard. I will leave it to experts such as Tom Ahern to further pontificate on the art of good donor communications, but in this winter Olympics, two stories stood out to me.

Team USA short-track speedskater Emily Scott raised $48,000 on gofundme.com after her stipend from U.S. Speedskating was reduced. In order to even participate in the winter Olympics, she needed to fundraise. Doubtful that she had researchers, the luxury of “testing” several messages, or an expensive consultant to help her plan her campaign. But her story was inspirational and it spoke to people and was wildly successful.

In another case, the Jamaican Bobsled team -- although the subject of a popular comedy movie back in the day and having a cult following -- still needed to raise private funds to be able to participate in the Olympics. With an original budget of $80,000, they raised $150,000 in no time with two campaigns on Indigogo and Crowdtilt. Their story is great and they even threw in a premium with a donation at a certain level.

So what can non-profit and fundraising professionals learn from these Olympians?  That a strong and compelling story probably resonates louder with potential donors than a litany of statistics or industry specific jargon.