I Learned the Secret to Exceptional Fundraising From a Major League Baseball Team

In November, the Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year curse when they won the World Series! 108 long years of patience, sweat, tears and love; their fans deserve to relish in this win for years to come. Being a lifelong Red Sox fan, I can relate to this happy ending which is anything short of miraculous. Despite the curse (now buried!), the Cubs kept their supporters around and investing year after year.

Almost every nonprofit organization struggles with retaining supporters. In fact, the greatest loss in donors is a result of lapsed new donors, according to the 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report. For every 100 donors gained, 96 were lost through attrition. While a lot of organizations feel success when they acquire new donors each year, these results may be generating a false sense of hope for many organizations.

So, how do you sell a team, that probably won’t be good, to thousands of supporters clinging to the hope that, maybe this is the season, that team might be great?


One way is to know who your supporters are and why they’re still hanging around. The Chicago Cubs marketing team employs great efforts to survey fans in order to understand at what level they feel connected.

“I don’t know many other baseball teams that have gone after segmentation as aggressively as we have,” says Kelly Linstroth, Cubs assistant director of relationship marketing. “We leverage analytics in the planning process any time we have sufficient information to segment.”

The ability to segment donor profile data based on demographics and even social media behavior is a huge opportunity for nonprofits today. But, a lot of organizations feel blind when it comes to looking at their data. They either don’t have the resources or talent to mine their database on a regular basis. Running a simple donor data analysis report could result in more targeted asks and an increase in revenue.

Linstroth says the brand segments their supporters using three simple questions:

  • What is their level of passion as a fan?
  • How infrequently or frequently do they take actions?
  • How do they feel about themselves as a supporter?

Nonprofit organizations can use segmentation to develop more personalized messaging. For example, if you’re a die-hard baseball fan, the messaging should be about baseball. If you’re at the games simply for the atmosphere, then your messaging should be more about the concessions and fan activities. Segmentation can also be used to implement advocacy programs. Word-of-mouth is extremely valuable to any organization, especially given the digital world that we live in today. Nonprofits can ask their most passionate donors to support their organization in other ways than giving (e.g. social media share or “like”).


Did you know that 53% of donors will leave a nonprofit because of a lack of effective communication? Whether it’s a social post, your website, or an email, you should imagine that you have less than 10 seconds to hold a donor’s attention. You might reach someone through social media who is like-minded and willing to donate, but if they need to read a paragraph to understand your mission, they will likely move on. Most nonprofits have not mastered the art of concise messaging. In fact, 65% of nonprofits require three or more clicks to make a donation and 36% of nonprofits send emails with multiple calls to action.

It’s important to articulate your goals using branded imagery (and less words), while tugging at your donors’ heartstrings. In 2013, the Chicago Cubs launched the “Committed” campaign, featuring authentic stories from actual Cubs fans including this tattooed fan and couple that got engaged at Wrigley Stadium pictured below:

Not only do these marketing pieces display the loyalty and emotional connection their fans have to the team, but they also showcase the commitment the Cubs have to their supporters and the relationships they want to build with their fans. Additionally, they use few words to get their message across.

Now I realize the Cubs have a gigantic fan base and a much larger marketing team; however, nonprofit organizations can still apply these techniques to help retain lapsed donors and attract new ones.

Segmentation and communication are two ways to retain lapsed donors, but both steps must begin with data. The Cubs employ a data-driven marketing strategy that is driven “from the top-down, from the highest level,” Linstroth said. “All campaigns are an eight-step process that begins and ends with analytics.”

At my company we like to say we study, “The Science of Good Deeds.” In other words, why do we (as humans) give back? What motivates to support one organization over another? If your nonprofit is committed to learning more about your donors this year, then start by understanding your data. Don’t be “data blind.” Truly understand what your data is telling you. Striving to be more data-driven? Get a free analysis of your data. Find out how your nonprofit ranks against your peers. It’s a victory all around.

Thanks for reading and congrats to all you Cubs fans out there! For the rest of you, there’s always next year.

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