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A blog for nonprofit leaders featuring fresh voices, perspectives, strategies, and news about the relational work of fundraising that inspires abundant, sustainable, and meaningful philanthropy.

  • Otto Reinisch

Looking for fundraising success? Stop competing against everyone else.

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

To increase your success this “fundraising season” – the end-of-year period when more than 80% of charitable gifts will be made – stop competing with everyone else. Instead, heed this lesson from the story of Ben Comen, the courageous cross-country runner who never won a race.

Why do they come? Why do they hang around to watch the slowest high school cross-country runner in America? Why do they want to see a kid finish the 3.1 miles in 51 minutes when the winner did it in 16?

Why do they cry? Why do they applaud a clumsy junior who falls flat on his face almost every race?

Why? Because Ben Comen never quits. Did I also mention he has cerebral palsy?

"I feel like I've been put here to set an example," says Ben, 16. "I like to show people that you can either stop trying or you can pick yourself up and keep going. It's just more fun to keep going."

It must be, because faced with what Ben faces, most of us would quit.”1

What Ben teaches us is special. When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you. But when you compete against yourself, especially when you courageously overcome against formidable odds, everyone wants to help.

Why do you ‘run’? What challenges make your ‘race’ hard? What kept your organization going, fulfilling its mission, when quitting would have been easier?

These are the stories your donors need to hear. Stories of courage. Commitment. Passion. Perseverance. And, the pursuit of a noble goal...whatever the cost.

These stories – far more than facts and figures – will have donors cheering for you and ready to ‘pick you up’ when you fall, just as Ben Comen’s supporters did every time he ran. You will connect with donors in powerful ways as they see you ‘breathe life’ into their own values.

Stop worrying about other organizations. Compete against yourself. Then, the next time a donor asks, “Why should I give to you?”, you can confidently answer:

Because our work is important; it’s life changing. And because the work we’re doing now is better than the work we were doing six months ago. And the work we’ll be doing six months from now will be better than the work we’re doing today. We wake up every day with a sense of WHY we come to work. Are we better than our competition? If you believe what we believe and you believe in the things we do, then we’re better.2


1. Reilly, Rick. Sports Illustrated, October 3, 2003.

2. Sinek, Simon. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Penguin Business, 2019.

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