Life is unpredictable. So why do some thrive in the unpredictability while others fail? Jim Collins and Morten Hansen tackle this topic in Great By Choice. As we prepared to produce this year’s Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Study, I decided to dust off my copy of Great By Choice and re-read it.

What does Great By Choice have to do with nonprofit organizations and peer-to-peer fundraising? Everything. It has everything to do with us! We too live in a world of uncertainty. We can’t be sure how many people will register for an event, if a new sponsor will sign on, or if a new company team will fundraise…these items are largely out of our control. Despite the uncertainty and lack of control, some organizations are managing to thrive while others are declining. Just take a look at American Heart Association’s Heart Walk, or Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, or Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Cycle for Survival, and this list goes on…they continue to grow year-over-year.

How To Thrive In Chaos

In Great By Choice, Collins and Hansen set out to find companies with the same circumstances and uncontrollable environments—and they did just that. What it all comes down to is leadership. Collins and Hansen identified three core behaviors the leaders of thriving companies possessed: fanatic discipline, empirical creativity and productive paranoia.

Discipline is a struggle for most people. It’s very easy to eat the piece of pizza that you’re not supposed to, or buy the shoes that you really don’t need. We’ve all been there—made a choice that probably wasn’t best for our wallet or fundraising program. This is probably why I found the subject of fanatic discipline so interesting.  My favorite example from the book has nothing to do with companies, but instead takes us on the Race to the South Pole.

In 1911, Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott planned their South Pole expeditions with the goal to get there first. Amundsen spent years researching and planning his trip. His research took him to live with the Eskimos to learn how they lived and thrived in snow and ice conditions. His research helped also him formulate a detailed plan for food, transportation, and their goal to travel 17 miles a day. Amundsen did the research and developed a methodical plan.  Scott, on the other hand, was not as methodical with his planning. With that statement, you can probably guess who reached the South Pole first: Amundsen.

While their preparation was different, it was not the only difference between the two explorers. Amundsen was disciplined. On good days, Scott sometimes traveled up to 30 miles, and on bad days the team would stay at camp. Meanwhile, Amundsen’s expedition marched every day. On good days, they stuck to their 17 miles goal, and on bad days they did their best to meet their mileage goal. Unlike Scott’s team, Amundsen’s plan never had the team too far from a supply depot, so they were never without food.

Amundsen exuded fanatic discipline; the team stopped when they could have kept going and pushed to get the last mile when they felt like they couldn’t go any farther. Think about it—it takes an enormous amount of discipline to stop—to not go any further—even when you know you can.

Why do some thrive in uncertain times while other fail? Research, planning, and most importantly discipline when implementing the plan. I hope you’ll think about this concept of fanatic discipline as you’re comparing your fundraising metrics with the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Study. The metrics in the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Study will provide a great baseline for helping you develop a methodical plan to meet your fundraising goals and objectives.  The real question is: Will you exude fanatic discipline to stick with the plan during the highs and lows?



Amy Braiterman, principal strategy consultant at Blackbaud, supports customers with their peer-to-peer fundraising events with a process she refers to as “data-driven strategy.” Amy’s data driven strategy analyzes how effective event participants are using online fundraising tools and takes those results to develop an event fundraising plan. Prior to joining Blackbaud, Amy earned her fundraising stripes managing events for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Alzheimer’s Association and Share Our Strength. She shares her fundraising know how here on npENGAGE, by hosting educational webinars and speaking at customer conferences

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