By Brad Layland, CEO and Senior Consultant

Over the last few years, I have started doing triathlons, with the goal of eventually completing a full Ironman. It became my pandemic project. Although I met this goal last May, I’ve continued to swim, bike, and run. This past weekend I participated in an Olympic distance triathlon. This race, although much shorter than the full Ironman, would offer me a new challenge – the swim portion would be in the ocean rather than a lake.


When we first got out to the beach, the waves didn’t seem very large, but after spending a few minutes looking at them, though, I realized the waves were 3-4 ft. high and quite choppy.


When the race began, I swam out past the first buoy and began to head south. I immediately realized that the waves were huge and the current was very strong. I had never swum in anything so out of control, and I was having a horrible time seeing through my goggles. After getting to the first buoy, I knew that my only goal was to make it to the next buoy. The only problem was the waves were so large that I couldn’t see any buoys. I was just swimming aimlessly. I wasn’t panicking, but I was keenly aware that I had no idea what to focus on. I kept looking for the buoy, but I couldn’t find it. I did see a few other swimmers, so I decided to aim for them. After a few minutes, I saw a lifeguard sitting on a surfboard in the distance, so I aimed for him. As I got closer, the lifeguard yelled to me, “You’re way too far out – head to shore!” As I approached the shoreline, I started to see the buoys again. What a relief! I was able to finish the swim.


Before that lifeguard redirected me, I was way off course. I had lost my focus. I am so thankful that the lifeguard got me back on track; I later found out that someone else about my age actually died that day on the swim. Losing your focus can have dramatic, even horrible consequences.


In my role, I spend a lot of time talking with fundraising staff and volunteers about staying focused. Fundraising, especially during a pandemic, can feel like you are swimming through turbulent waters. Staying focused means staying with your core strategy. Here’s how I explain this fundraising principle:


Core Strategy: Identifying the smallest number of donors that can allow you to raise the most amount of money by a specific time.


I am on the board of a small school that my wife and I helped start in St. Augustine called Veritas Classical School. We need to raise about $250,000 this year to support the work of the school. Right now we have a core strategy to raise about 75% of our goal by the end of October. To do this, we’ll talk to the top ten donors who have the ability to give us about $180,000 of the $250,000 budget. That’s a core strategy – a small group of people who can make a big difference.


There are lots of activities that our school could do to raise money, and it would be easy to get distracted by planning a raffle or something but staying focused on the goal of talking to these ten people is the equivalent of staying focused on the buoy in the triathlon. Just last week, a relatively new family we met with committed to a gift that will likely total over $70,000.


Here is what I know: You are swimming (fundraising) through turbulent waters. The buoys (your core strategy) are there to guide you. And me? I’m like the lifeguard on the surfboard, pointing you back in the right direction. Head towards the shore and focus on the few who can help you accomplish your mission. And remember – at the end of all your hard work, there’s a reward that’s so much better than the medal I got at the end of the triathlon (changed lives through the work you are a part of).


If you would like to learn more about developing a core strategy and my triathlon, please click on the link below!

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