“This is a football.”

It was the first day of training camp. The year was 1961.  Thirty-eight members of the Green Bay Packers football team arrived to start a brand-new season.  The previous season ended horribly for the Packers who squandered a lead to lose the NFL championship to the Philadelphia Eagles.

This was a new season, however, and the players arrived at training camp with great expectations of playing better, smarter and with more effective plays. Their coach, Vince Lombardi, had a different idea.

Author David Marannis recounted that day in his book, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi:

“He took nothing for granted. He began a tradition of starting from scratch, assuming that the players were blank slates who carried over no knowledge from the year before… He began with the most elemental statement of all. “Gentlemen,” he said, holding a pigskin in his right hand, ‘this is a football.’”

This is an iconic story about the importance of the fundamentals — not just of a sport, but in any endeavor. I was thinking about that today in light of raising money.

We all have a tendency to be attracted to “shiny new things.” The 1961 Packers team members thought that the key to winning the championship would be found in new plays and game strategies — shiny new things.  But Lombardi knew that if they didn’t have the fundamentals down pat that all the new things wouldn’t help them win a Super Bowl.  So what are some of the fundamentals for those of us who raise money for ministry?

Audience — If you’re doing direct mail acquisition, are you using the right rental lists? Do you look at the long-term value of names acquired from different lists?  We know that some mailing lists produce good long-term donors while other lists don’t.  Sometimes the best lists (short-term results) don’t produce the best long-term donors.

Segmentation is another vitally important fundamental. How are you segmenting your direct mail file? The historical approach, RFM (recency, frequency, monetary), is no longer adequate.  There are many important variables that go beyond RFM like seasonality, preferences for particular projects, preferences to give through certain channels, etc.  Those are essential in assuring that you are speaking to the right audience at the right time.

Offer — The offer, simply put, is what you ask the donor to do. Elements of a good offer are:

  • Specific (what is the need?)
  • Urgent (when do they need to respond?)
  • Donor-Centric (why you are writing to them?)
  • Result-Oriented (what will their gift accomplish?)

Some have said that 80% of your success is getting the right offer in front of the right people. I tend to agree.

To varying degrees, we are all looking for the next big fundraising win. However, we should not become so enamored with discovering that big win that we neglect practicing and refining the fundamentals of our craft on a daily basis.