Why you need a cyclist in your fundraising team

 

11 million people stayed up late last week, glued to their screens to watch Laura Trott and Jason Kenny’s incredible evening unfold.

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As fundraisers, we are all storytellers, and this was quite a story. A romance. A thriller. There was an enemy to fight – a bad-guy with a false start pistol. There was jeopardy – would Jason be disqualified? There was even a comedy little motorbike and an even funnier rule-book in there for good measure. The 10 o clock news was put on hold. The nation was hooked. The suspense was unbearable. We’d already watched Laura Trott take her fourth Gold, and we we’re all rooting for her fiancé Jason to make Olympic history. And the perfect happy ending. If Laura and Jason choose to have kids someday, they will surely cycle into the world.

It was a truly inspiring story – deserving of Gold in the storytelling Olympics. But as fundraisers we all know that a great story isn’t enough to get the very best results. There’s a lot more to it than that.

So, what can the GB cycling team bring to our fundraising?

When Sir Dave Brailsford, former professional cyclist, took on the job of Head of British Cycling in 2002, the team had won just one gold medal in 76 years. Fast forward to Beijing in 2008 and his team won seven out of the ten Golds available. A feat matched on home turf four years later. And in the last fortnight he’s seen the team bring 12 medals home from Rio. That’s twice as many as their nearest rival.

That really is getting results. But how’d he do it?

Sir Dave applied a theory of marginal gains to cycling. He gambled that if the team broke down every possible element that goes into the competition, and improved each by 1%, they could achieve a significant aggregated performance increase. And that really did mean everything. The team found small improvements to be made everywhere. By analysing the mechanics area in the team truck they discovered dust building up on the floor and undermining bike maintenance. The solution – paint the floor white to better spot impurities. They scrutinised diets, and hand washing technique to prevent illness. They even took their own mattresses and pillows to Rio. Small things, but taken together the team truly believed that each marginal gain they could make would come together to see them take the Gold.

So why should fundraisers think like Cyclists?

I think we can all take inspiration from the British Cycling teams success. Let’s not settle for good fundraising creative. Let’s look to achieve marginal gains and strive for medal-winning, banker-beating results. That doesn’t mean ignoring innovation. The best fundraising teams have a strong innovation programme and culture to ensure growth, but optimising business as usual, making what you already know speaks to your audience, work a little bit harder will take your programme from Silver to Gold.

With that I pose a challenge to you, and your fundraising team.

Look at your work through Sir Dave’s eyes. Think like a GB cyclist. Pull your work apart. Identify 10 things you could test. Identify 20. Consider things you’ve never considered before. Prioritise your testing hypotheses in terms of which will have the biggest impact on response and test them. Test all of them. – A leaning that’s always fascinated me is a significant increase in overall response to an insert when a text call to action was added, despite minimal response coming in via text. Who’d have predicted that one? – Make each element of your creative work a little bit harder. Look for those marginal differences in results and pip your banker creative over the line. Let’s strive for fundraising Gold.