How the “Win Big” Economy is Changing the Fundraising Game

How the “Win Big” Economy is Changing the Fundraising Game

Dirty money.
Not charitable.
Highly unethical.

Over the last 10 years, words and phrases like these were used to describe nonprofits that applied for a Gaming license and ran a 50/50 lottery to raise money. I am familiar with it because in 2012, I was the Executive Director of the first nonprofit in New Brunswick to scale a 50/50 lottery. My decision to set up and run the lottery – coupled with its immediate success and explosive growth that followed – made me the pariah in every fundraising room I walked into.

Fast forward to today. Suddenly the most shunned revenue model is the most desirable. Fueled by declining budgets and financial desperation, many nonprofits have turned to the very strategy they fundamentally disagreed with (and actively spoke against) to solve a problem that loomed long before the pandemic. The desire to win draws the kind of audience most nonprofits have never known before.

The internet is now overflowing with invitations to play 50/50. It’s the dopamine hit everyone loves and it’s delivered directly to your email inbox. Just today, I saw three emails reminding me to play before the looming deadline for a chance to win anywhere from a $50,000 to $250,000 prize at the next draw. From hospitals to schools, the big shops are now operating 50/50 lotteries fueled by vendors that possess the same level of capabilities as Amazon.

In this supercharged environment, a passion for the mission has been replaced by the drive for dopamine. This is as true for the players searching for their next hit as it is for the nonprofits praying for the surprise millionaire Donor to land on their doorstep with a huge cheque. The cashflow is real, the desire is there… and there’s a much bigger picture to consider.

To the small shops that are thinking of doing a 50/50 – know up front that the giants have moved into town, and they’re equipped to attract hungry players with huge wins. The rise in 50/50 lotteries means everyone is competing for the same dollars. So what is the answer for you? Where is your competitive edge? Here are some questions to ponder…

How is it that the 50/50 lottery I started in a small community 10 years ago has kept its momentum? Why is it that other nonprofits in this province have struggled for more than 5 years to achieve what I achieved in the first 2 years? And how is it that, for the past 6 months, our little community has been flooded with new lotteries boasting significantly larger prizes – and the original 50/50 lottery is still going strong?

The answer is simple. To us, a “player” is a person who makes the work possible. From day one, we knew the players were valued customers. We focused on our relationship with them. In return, we got retention. Beyond that, we’ve proven that we deliver on our word. We bring immense value to the community, and our reward is their loyalty.

My friends, nothing has changed. These are the ingredients of all sustainable fundraising. Always has been. Always will be. Anywhere you have people ready to give, you must build a relationship. You must put the mission in front of them. The elements of a successful fundraising campaign are the same elements of a successful fundraising lottery.

The big shops can take their players on the highway to high prizes. They’ll have no problem inspiring the hungriest of players. What they will NOT achieve is retention or loyalty. What they will NOT achieve is appreciation and commitment to their mission. There will be no relationship. And when the lottery eventually fizzles, so will all the players who were only there for the win.

If you’re a small shop planning on hopping aboard the 50/50 lottery train this year, I have some sage advice…

1. This is not the time to start a 50/50 lottery alone. Instead, collaborate with other small shops in your niche. Bundle your efforts and share the results.

2. Take your players on a TWO-way highway. The opportunity to play a 50/50 lottery in a nonprofit answers TWO questions for your players – “What can I win?” and “What do they do?” If you aren’t answering both, it’s time to reconnect with your supporters.

3. Consider this a call to arms. It’s time to envision a new funding model. Think local. Think community-served and community-driven. Think what you give will inspire what you receive back – both time and money. Put your focus back on the mission and the people who make your work possible. Observe what’s happening both locally and regionally. Those are the seeds of your next model.

Want help? I offer individualized coaching and consulting specifically tailored to meet you where you are, with the people and resources you have available to you, and with your goals in mind.

Reply to this message directly to set up a conversation. Even if we don’t end up doing work together, I promise our conversation will highlight a direction and solutions you haven’t yet considered.

Let’s start there.