Bear Bryant, longtime legendary football coach for the Alabama Crimson Tide, once said, “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” The same principle can be applied to nonprofit fundraising. An offensive strategy will help secure top dollars and cultivate new donors, but it is the defensive strategy that stewards the patrons, maintains both internal and external communication, and ultimately grows the organization and furthers the mission.

Great defense but poor offense translates to money being left on the table. Great offense but poor defense translates to unhappy donors, an uncoordinated approach, and a failure to execute an organization’s goals. Let’s dive into the Fundraising playbook.

Be an Offensive Coordinator

The most important role of the offensive coordinator is to drive activity down the field. Driving activity includes cultivating new prospects, advocating for the organization, and asking for dollars. The offensive team should always know where each prospect or donor stands in the moves management process and what the next step should be. Then following this, the team should know the strategy for stewarding that relationship.

The chart below demonstrates the play of how to move a potential donor from “discovery” to “ask” (aka: your top donors who you manage closely). Your “D” prospects are those who have a low interest and a low involvement in your organization. This will generally be your largest category of prospects for the fact that your role is to monitor them and develop a strategy of cultivation. Through keeping them satisfied and informed, they will ideally gain a higher involvement and higher interest in your organization to where they can be labeled as an “A,” meaning they’re ready to be asked for a gift and become a donor. The number of prospects gets smaller as you approach this “A” group, as depicted in the chart below.   dcba-chart

Each prospect should be treated with its own strategy; some potential donors should be cultivated through events, some through tours of your facilities, and others through one-on-one meetings.  As the chart above depicts, everyone should be categorized and each action tracked. Additionally, keep gaining yardage on the “donor field” by following up, furthering relationships, and asking for dollars at the right place, right time, and by the right person or people.

Be a Defensive Coordinator

There is another saying in football that goes, “the best defense is a good offense.”  Think about your cultivation in a defensive way like this: you need to protect the donors you have and also your organization. The defensive strategy for an organization continues to reinforce confidence in the donor.  What is it that keeps your donors contributing? What is it that increases annual giving year after year? Additionally, what may happen or may have happened that will affect your donors’ perception of the organization and thus affect their giving? Although not a contact sport, fundraising has issues that need to be strategized and then attacked head-on. Don’t play passive defense.

Condition your organization to be a well-oiled machine—open communication, transparency, action, good use of time and dollars, and fulfillment of mission.  Practice open communication externally—from the nonprofit to the donor—but also within your organization. If a top donor has recently been asked for a significant campaign gift, he should not receive an annual appeal letter one week later. Unlike football games, there are no limits to huddles, strategy meetings, or time-outs in fundraising; these tactics are essential to ensure that all the different actions from an organization are coming from one unified effort and goal.  Schedule regular strategy meetings so that everyone knows the upcoming plays and how the team will execute them.

It is important to note that all long-time patrons were once ‘one-time donors.’ What is it that keeps them giving to your organization? Remember Bear Bryant’s quote: “Defense wins championships.”

Be a Cheerleader

Each person connected to your organization must be a cheerleader. Everyone can advocate for your mission, attend important events, and ask others to “join in.” Fundraising is not a task limited to the Foundation or Development office; it is an organization-wide effort that strives toward building a culture of philanthropy. The primary role of all staff is to continue building this philanthropic culture so that relationships thrive.

CCS is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page.

About the Author

Vann Ellen Mitchell is a Vice President with CCS Fundraising. She has experience with healthcare institutions, associations, and religious and human service organizations. Vann has significant knowledge in capital campaigns, major gift fundraising, prospect management, and research. She holds a B.S. from UNC – Chapel Hill and an M.A. from Carnegie Mellon University.