The Fundraiser’s Game Of Life

NPG Fundraisers Game of Life Header No NPG Logo

I just got back into town on the west coast of Florida from the east coast in St. Augustin after attending Planet Philanthropy, a state-wide conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Florida Caucus. I presented “The Fundraiser’s Game of Life.” Based on the popular board game, this presentation provided a unique perception of the annual campaign and tips on how to navigate your career during the changing organizational dynamics. Want to play a game?

Quick fun facts: The Game of Life board game was originally published in 1866 by Milton-Bradley. The board game relaunched in 1960 and endorsed by Art Linkletter, the game once quickly again spread throughout households. The board game has been inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame. The 2-6 players face life’s challenges of careers, getting married, having children, and buying homes and automobiles. There are pitfalls of being sued, bankruptcies, and struggles with neighbors. The main objective is to avoid the poor house. The player who makes the most money wins.

Manager/ Technician Role: The Game of Life board game starts with players choosing between college or career paths. The Fundraiser’s Game of Life begins with a discussion of the Manager/ Technician role of the fundraiser, with a self-evaluation quiz handout. This measurement tool was used as an instrument for my master’s thesis research project, which was the foundation for an article published in the Journal of Communication Management.

MLW with Spin To WInMy thesis’ premise was based upon Dr. Kathleen Kelly’s (Former University of Florida College of Journalism Department Chair, now retired) line of research drawing from public relation’s theory applied to fundraising as donor relations.

In the simplest terms, the managers make decisions, while technicians implement the decisions made by others. Fundraiser’s that are managerial in their organizational role are more likely to engage in such activities as planned giving, major gifts, and capital campaigns. They are also more likely to be male, have advanced degrees, hold certifications, have employment longevity, and make more money than their technician counterparts. Fundraiser’s that are more technical in their organizational role are more likely to engage in activities such as special event management, volunteer management, and social media. While most fundraiser will engage in both roles to some degree, one role will over time be more dominant.

unnamed (1)The presentation then discussed the life stages of an organization (hence the Game of Life). Drawing from two major resources: The 5 Life Stages of Nonprofit Organizations: Where you are, Where you’re going, and what to expect when you get there, Judith Sharken Simon, 2001 Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, and Nonprofit Lifecycles, Susan Kenny Stevens, 2002, Stagewise Enterprises.

The Five Nonprofit Organizational Life Stages:

  1. Infancy – The major question during this stage is how can this dream be realized?

This stage typically –

  • Lasts 1 to 2 years,
  • The Founder is primary leader and serves as board chair,
  • The Founder is the primary fundraiser with strong managerial vision,
  • One major program,
  • One major funding source,
  • And Board Members are close contacts of the Founder.


2. Youth – The major question during this stage is how are we going to pull this off?

This stage typically –

  • Lasts 2 to 3 years,
  • The founder often as Board Chair,
  • The Founder is the primary fundraiser with strong managerial vision, but technical skills are a great asset.
  • Small Board of Directors and recruiting,
  • First staff employed,
  • Volunteer driven,
  • Marketing is word of mouth,
  • Lack of formal procedures,
  • And has limited funds.


3. Teenager – The major question during this stage is how can we build this to be viable? This stage typically –

  • Lasts 2 to 7 years,
  • First full-time paid staff most likely with strong technical skills,
  • Small Board of Directors but expanding away from Founder’s contacts,
  • Establishing protocols,
  • First fiscal location established,
  • And actively redefining program delivery.


4. Maturity – The major question during this stage is how can we sustain the momentum? This stage typically –

  • Last 7 to 30 years,
  • Board member are more diverse,
  • Executive Director as a leader with strong managerial skills,
  • Decentralized chain of command,
  • Founding sources are established,
  • Professional Fundraiser may be hired,
  • New programs are established with diverse revenue streams,
  • Establishing endowments,
  • Focus on operating reserve,
  • Capital Campaigns are enacted,
  • And long-range planning is seen as paramount.

5. Decline – The major question during this stage is what do we need to do to redesign? This stage typically –

  • Last 2-5 years
  • Executive Director given low managerial opportunities often reactionary,
  • Loss of morale,
  • Heavy turnover of leadership (staff and Board Members),
  • Top heavy administration,
  • Long-standing programs become irrelevant,
  • Long-standing funding dries up,
  • But does not mean the organization is going towards terminal, but this can be an opportunity for rebirth and regeneration.

Just like in the board game, The Fundraiser’s Game Of Life has pitfalls and traps. Knowing the common traps may help you in being aware of what to avoid and what to do if you find yourself in these situations. I think I am going to develop a blog post just on this subject later.

  • Founder’s Syndrome
  • Embedded ED
  • Dismal Swamp of Special Events
  • Sacred Cow Program
  • Rogue Board / Committee Members
  • Mission Creep
  • And the Revolving Door of the Fundraising Staff.


This Fundraiser’s Game Of Like presentation got rave reviews and lots of positive feedback. I had a lot of fun putting it together. I plan on repackaging this presentation to be around 60 minutes and appropriate for an AFP chapter luncheon. The presentation is unique in its composition but draws upon other’s research, as well. I believe in giving credit where credit is due.

I hope to be announcing soon my next time to spin to win at the Fundraiser’s Game of Life near you. Maybe this will be a chapter in my book. Stay tuned.

2019 Copyright Nonprofit Gladiator



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