When Things Don’t Go Your Way, How Can You Still Win?

Prospective donors look forward to talking with you. Donors love you. Your colleagues are supportive. Your appeals achieve record success. When everything works the way it should, being a fundraising professional is fulfilling and enormously fun.

Unfortunately, things seldom go completely according to plan. Problems arise. Conflicts simmer. Unexpected events bring new challenges.

So, what can you do to become or remain a champion fundraising professional in the face of anticipated and unanticipated challenges?

The answer: Think like an Olympian.

I enjoy watching the Olympics. I like the competitions, and I like the human-interest stories. We can learn a great deal from Olympic athletes. If you want to be a champion, it’s a good idea to discover what champions do to succeed. For example, let’s look at a story involving Hope Solo, the gold-medal goalkeeper for the USA Women’s Soccer Team.

Soccer Ball by Armando Sobrino via FlickrAt the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics, USA faced New Zealand on the soccer field. Whenever the ball came near Solo, Brazilian football fans booed and, at times, chanted “Zika.” According to a report in The Washington Post, Brazil’s football fans were unhappy with Solo’s pre-Olympic comments about Brazil and her concerns about the Zika virus.

Prior to making the trip to South America, Solo took to social media to say she was thinking about not going. Ultimately, she “begrudgingly” announced she would participate in the games, but that she planned on being well armed with mosquito repellent. She also joked that she would bring enough for anyone else in the Olympic Village who might need some.

Solo’s concern is not unjustified. Zika is a serious virus that is transmitted by mosquito. The first major outbreak began in Brazil. In addition to causing other health problems, the virus can cause major birth defects if contracted by a pregnant woman.

Nevertheless, Brazilians were not pleased with Solo’s ongoing commentary about Zika.

So, Solo faced two issues when she took the field against New Zealand:

  1. She had concerns about being bitten by a disease-carrying mosquito.
  2. She found herself confronted by thousands of unhappy Brazilians.

How did the American champion respond?

Solo prepared herself. She assessed the health risks by consulting a number of doctors. She learned what she could do to reduce her risk. And, based on that knowledge, she brought plenty of mosquito repellent with her.

Unfortunately, the boos and jeers were unexpected. A lesser athlete might have been upset at being the focus of such anger or might simply have become angry in return. However, Hope Solo is not just any competitor. She’s a proven champion.

Following the game, Solo showed her empathy, “The Brazilians, they love soccer, they love football — it’s part of the culture. They’re having fun.” In other words, she did not take the jeering personally even though it was directed at her. She accepted it as just part of the game. She just shrugged it off.

Solo also showed us something else. She was intensely focused on her mission: stopping the ball and winning. After the game she said, “I was pretty focused on the game. What goes on around me in the stadium, honestly, it doesn’t really matter.”

So, what was the outcome in the match between USA and New Zealand? Team USA won 2-0!

Here is what we can learn from Hope Solo:

  1. Work to anticipate and assess all challenges and obstacles.
  2. Prepare yourself to meet the challenges and obstacles, both expected and unexpected.
  3. When interacting with other people, strive to be empathetic and resist the temptation to take things personally.
  4. Maintain a laser focus on your organization’s mission and your fundraising objectives.

If you follow Solo’s example, you’ll be a fundraising champion.

For more tips from Carli Lloyd, one of Solo’s teammates, click here.

What helpful tips have you picked up from the sports world?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

4 Comments to “When Things Don’t Go Your Way, How Can You Still Win?”

  1. I like to think in terms of a marathon. The training requires planning, commitment and discipline and it stretches into the distant future. Thinking like a marathoner helps me stay focused on our mission.

  2. As a six-time Ironman, multiple marathoner, and frequent road warrior with more than 100 races on my belt, I appreciate sport analogies as a participant as well as a spectator. (Don’t ask me to stand in front of a soccer ball coming in at full speed!) From my own experiences and from talking to other age-group and pro triathletes at the top of the sport, I think the key lesson about set-backs and disappointments is that they happen to almost everyone, during almost every event – especially any endurance event. Experienced pros are no different from age groupers when it comes to flat tires – everyone gets them and everyone has to stop and change their own tires.

    As with fundraising (that’s my day job, endurance sport is just what keeps me off the couch at night and on the weekend), it’s great when a donor visit, event, campaign, work out just as planned. We learn to deal with the glitches and outright failures and they become just part of the process – your butt hurts after 80 miles on the bike but you learn that this pain will fade and other will take its place, and then you’re on to the run…or you get turned down by a funder but you know it’s a good proposal so you take it to the next prospect.

    Hope Solo’s dilemma was the mental game – a tough game for athletes and fundraisers to win on bad days, especially when the crowd is against you. Mo Farah may have the best performance setback-and-recovery of the games so far. In the 10,000 meter final, he was tripped by serial dirty runner Galen Rupp (who, unfortunately, is the best chance for a US medal in the men’s marathon). Mo went down flat in the middle of the pack of some of that fastest men on the planet. Some people – even some pro’s – would have conceded the race, assuming there was no way to make up ground after literally falling out of the lead group. But he knew what he had in him, and he knew from experience that anything can happen, that with roughly half the race still ahead he could pull himself back into contention. He got back up, gave his best effort, and claimed gold. That’s what fundraisers have to keep in mind – when we fall down (for whatever reason), we have to remember it’s a long race, and we have to get back up and start running again.

    • Kevin, thank you for sharing your insights from your own experience. Thank you also for mentioning Mo Farah’s race. his performance was stunning and inspirational.

      As baseball legend Babe Ruth once said, “You just can’t beat the person who won’t give up.”

      As a couch-potato myself — okay, I do some yoga, but that’s about it for exercise/athletics — I know one does not have to be an athlete to think like an athlete. Like I said, I love the Olympics.

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