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Last week we had the pleasure of participating in the first annual Sports Philanthropy World Congress in Chicago. The event brought together sports philanthropy professionals for education, discussion and networking. Panel topics included setting organizational agendas, creating better programs, measuring impact, engaging donor bases, and fundraising. 

Experts ranged from nonprofit executives, consultants, development professionals and former athletes all active in the sports philanthropy space. Here are some of the key lessons we learned from listening to some great panel discussions.

  1. Your organization’s mission is allowed to change!
    Nothing is set in stone. If down the line you need to make adjustments to your mission, that’s ok!

  2. There are such things as the WRONG partners and projects.
    It’s important to understand what organizations, projects and initiatives fit your mission and vision for your organization. If the proposed opportunity doesn’t fit, move on.

  3. It’s important to empower other individuals within your organization and those who work with your organization to speak.
    Organizations should understand that those that work for you and with you are powerful spokespeople for the work you do. Empower them to speak about their work and raise valuable awareness and goodwill for your organization!

  4. Know your organization’s MVP: Mission, Vision and Purpose!
    Every nonprofit needs an MVP! Your mission, vision and purpose are the keys to setting a successful agenda, creating programs, forming partnerships, measuring impact, marketing, fundraising and much more.

  5. Nonprofit work is all about collaboration. 
    No matter what the focus of your nonprofit, you can’t do it alone. Impact goes farther when organizations work together towards a common goal.

  6. You need to incorporate evidence-based and community-based approaches.
    When it comes to figuring out a roadmap for your organization’s agenda, it’s important to keep in mind both the evidence you’ve collected through your work as well as the insights from the people you serve. Make sure those you serve in the community are actively involved with the evaluation of your programs and the decision making on the needs you can fill.

  7. Athletes have the power to raise awareness of organizations and issues.
    Professional athletes have a unique ability to connect with a variety of people on issues and organizations that need support. Their power to create awareness for these initiatives should not be overlooked.

  8. Pay attention to where your organization intersects with others.
    How can those organizations you intersect with add value, and how can you add value to them? Who else is affected by what you do? These things are important to consider, and understand who else is a stakeholder in your organization.

  9. Share the fundraising responsibility with your board.
    Your board of directors should be intimately involved with your organization, especially when it comes to fundraising. Your board members are well-connected and committed to helping your mission. Train your board on fundraising tips and best practices so that they can become advocates for your organization wherever they are. 

  10. When you are measuring impact and collecting data, it’s important to recognize the assumptions you may have and take them OUT of the data collection process.
    Many times organizations and staff have unconscious bias or conscious bias that can affect data that you collect on your programs. Be sure to acknowledge what biases may exist among your team, and leave them out of the data collection process.

  11. Nonprofits need to be introspective and shine a light on themselves in order to grow and improve their community impact.
    Even the most successful nonprofits need to take a look at themselves once in a while to ensure they are still on the right path. Collecting data and evaluating that info is a great way to see if your programs are working and making the impact you are claiming. You may need to change things up to be more impactful, and that’s ok!

  12. Collaborate with community organizations to collect data.
    There are many ways to collect data from both your participants as well as the community as a whole. There are corporations that offer efficient data collection technologies, universities that offer their students research projects for course credits, and government organizations that track data about communities that you can access.

  13. If you want to work with athletes, it’s important to find an athlete with the same passion for your organization.
    Just like there can be the wrong initiatives and partners for your organization, the same applies for athlete partners and ambassadors. Be sure to do your research and follow what athletes are doing in the community. Make sure there is alignment between your mission and that athlete’s brand and passion.

  14. When you are telling your organization’s story, make sure you have a target audience in mind.
    It’s important to understand who you are trying to reach with your marketing. If you don’t have a target audience in mind, the message can be lost in the clutter. Tailor your stories and marketing to those specific groups that will help you reach your goals. You’ll see more success that way.

  15. Pay attention to who is engaging with your content and learn more about who they are.
    Do you know who your biggest fans are? Who is opening your email newsletters? Who is sharing and replying to you on social media? Get to know your key audience and who is engaging with you. Make sure that’s a part of your marketing and storytelling plan.

  16. Get your audience and stakeholders to tell stories that tie to your organization.
    Your organization’s biggest fans and stakeholders can also be some of your best ambassadors. Reach out to donors and have them tell stories about what the organization means to them. Engage those you support to share their stories about how your organization has impacted them.

  17. If you don’t feel anything when you write up a story, THROW IT OUT.
    Enough said! If you don’t connect to the story you are writing on an emotional level, most people won’t either. Your audience is bombarded with content all day every day. Make your story stand out and resonate with them. 

  18. Fundraising isn’t about asking for money.
    Don’t approach fundraising as simply asking for money. It’s all about telling a story that draws people in to ask how they can help. Take the storytelling approach with current and prospective donors instead of a sales pitch. 

  19. The most important thing when interacting with a donor is transparency.
    Transparency is key when asking for dollars from donors. You are asking for their trust, you must earn it. Be upfront and clear with what you are asking for, the impact it will make and the exact amount of cost that needs to be covered.

  20. Ask before you ask.
    Don’t spring an ask on a donor. Let people know you plan to ask them to contribute at the lunch you scheduled to avoid wasting their time and yours. Make sure the donor is comfortable.

  21. Talk less, listen more.
    Don’t just share your elevator pitch! When you are asking for funding from donors, listen to their stories, what matters to them and what their passions are. How can you tailor your approach to fit their interests and create a positive synergy? 

  22. Be wary of having a fundraising dependance on events.
    Events are a well-known way of fundraising, but they require a lot of time, logistics and funds to pull off. Sometimes the most effective fundraising events are simple networking events or parlor room events held at a board member’s home. If you are doing too many large scale events, you may end up spending more than you are raising.

  23. Board members need to have skin in the game with your organization. 
    Your board is a key part of the management of your organization. If they don’t have some kind of serious commitment to the organization’s mission and goals (whether fundraising, in kind donations, etc) then you need to reevaluate. It’s important that your board members are actively engaged in the work your organization is doing.

Are any of these lessons helpful or being implemented on your team? Did we miss any great points? Share them in the comments below. 

We look forward to being a part of next year’s World Congress! 

Post Author: Danielle Berman

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