9 Ways a Triathlon is like Lutheran School Fundraising

Those who follow my personal communications may have noticed that I recently completed my first Sprint Triathlon… a race where participants swim, bike, and run a series of distances in succession. While I didn’t finish anywhere close in the upper ranks of finishers (third place in my age division… out of 3), I did reach my goal of A) not drowning, B) not falling, and C) not stopping…

As I was running I started crafting the following analogy of how triathlons compare to Lutheran school fundraising (like I said, I wasn’t too far up front in the pack here, folks.) Here it goes:

  1. You gotta start sometime: I have been wanting to run a triathlon for 25 years, but “life” got in the way… many of our Lutheran schools want to start fundraising, or want to be more successful in their fundraising, but just have never made that next step. The plan keeps getting shelved until the next principal arrives.
  2. Triathlons involves three distinct disciplines: I had to train in the basic movement exercises of swimming, biking, and running… for most of our partnership schools, the trifecta of fundraising includes SGO/annual giving, endowment giving, and estate giving, and these basic efforts form a strong foundation to build a fundraising program.
  3. You need modest goals to start: as stated above, my goal was not to be the best, it was to simply succeed by finishing… no one expects our partnership schools to be the best the first go-round, they just need to try, see what happens, adjust for the future, try again, and keep improving.
  4. With time comes improvement: 12 months ago I couldn’t even run a mile without stopping… we have 5 schools with paid staff responsible for fundraising and schools together raising millions in SGO dollars; who would have thought that possible 5 years ago?
  5. It is easy to get sidetracked; jobs, marriages, and families all help distract… how many of our principals and school boards don’t have fires to extinguish every day? Hence why we advocate for paid fundraising staff with a dedicated focus on fundraising.
  6. Drafting is bad: following behind someone too close on the biking section would result in penalties… our schools certainly should never embark on their fundraising efforts half-heartedly and simply mimic what other do. Instead they should take the best practices and apply it to their own, unique situation.
  7. The event was going to happen, come rain or shine: you should have seen the dark green for the race area on my weather app… Lutheran schools need to understand that fundraising is no longer an option.
  8. It takes a change in culture to succeed… I lost 30 pounds in the 12 months leading up to the triathlon by changing my habits of little exercise and poor diet… our schools need to consider themselves nonprofit organizations that need a dedicated, directed, and intentional fundraising plan.
  9. The rewards abound: while exhausting, I can’t wait to do it again… with fundraising success comes more success.

Perhaps you can list even more comparisons.

Anyway, I always wondered what I would think about during my race, and aside from a few training songs, recent selections performed by the Promise Lutheran Church praise band, and oddly enough the lyrics from the Battle Hymn of the Republic, what filled my head was mostly drafting this article… yep, I was working. That is perhaps a final bonus comparison: our schools should never stops looking for fundraising opportunities… they tend to pop up in the strangest places.

Perhaps I should talk to Mark about expensing my race costs.

–JD