Fundraising Lessons from The Sandlot

Basic Fundraising

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The Sandlot is arguably one of the best family films of all time. It’s got laughs, heart, and a lot of baseball. This film also contains a lot of life lessons that apply to everyone—even fundraisers! Read on for fundraising lessons you can learn from The Sandlot.

  1. Show the value of an act of kindness
  2. Sometimes you have to break it down
  3. Drop jargon when talking to your supporters
  4. Tell a great story
  5. Don’t let fear hold you back

Show the value of an act of kindness

Acts of kindness can go a long way. When Benny gives Smalls a hand-me-down glove and baseball cap you can see the joy on Smalls’ face. He is genuine when saying thank you, which makes for a heartwarming scene.

Gratitude is one of the most important fundraising lessons you can learn from this post. That's why it's first on the list!

Your nonprofit should be like Smalls. Be excited about when donors make a gift. Thank them genuinely and with spirit! That gratitude should also be extended to your volunteers who are generously giving their time to your cause. There is no greater feeling than the one you get from making someone happy. As a nonprofit, you know that feeling better than a lot of businesses. The work you do makes a lot of people happy every day. When your supporters return the favor, show them how happy their gift makes you. It’ll make them feel good and inspire them to give again!

You can show gratitude with customized gift receipts, sending personalized thank-you messages (video messages are a nice touch!), hosting donor and volunteer appreciation events, or giving your supporters a call. Do something special to say thank you to the people who make the work you do possible.

Sometimes you have to break it down

One of the funniest moments in The Sandlot is when Ham tries asking Smalls if he wants a s’more. Smalls’ confusion led to one of the most iconic lines in the film.

Then, Ham walks Smalls through the process of constructing a s’more. This scene is a perfect metaphor for donor relations. Sometimes, fundraisers forget that donors don’t necessarily think like they do. If you want your supporters to give in a new way or follow a specific set of directions during a fundraising activity, you have to break it down for them.

Take a fundraising lesson from Ham Porter. Sometimes you have to spell out a process for your donors to truly understand it.

For instance, if you’re using text fundraising for the first time, give donors directions. Walk them through the steps of donating via text. It’s new to them. No matter how simple something seems to us (and making s’mores is undeniably simple), others don’t have the same comfort level with new technology and processes. Proper guidance and clear instructions can make all the difference!

Drop jargon when talking to your supporters

This next point relates to the one before it. Just like your donors appreciate clear directions, they also like your communications to be jargon-free. The whole plot of The Sandlot comes from a miscommunication. Smalls doesn’t know Babe Ruth as “The Sultan of Swat” or the “Colossus of Clout” so he swipes his step dad’s Babe Ruth baseball for his friends.

Your donors probably know more about the "Sultan of Swat" than they do about matching gifts, annuities, etc. Dropping jargon is a crucial fundraising lesson to learn.

The value of the ball was unknown to him because no one used Babe Ruth’s name or even explained who Babe Ruth was. In fact, Smalls thought it was signed by “some lady.” It’s only after he loses the ball to “The Beast” that the others fill him in on what he’d done.

This scene reminds us that our donors can be as easily confused as Smalls if we use our jargon when communicating with them. Instead, speak to your supporters in simple terms. Spell out what you want without any insider language. This ensures your donors understand what your needs are and that no miscommunication is going on. This is one of those fundraising lessons that can lead to stronger relationships with donors.

Tell a great story

Squints was another of the more iconic characters in the movie. He had a lot of savage one-liners and even orchestrated a scheme to kiss his crush, Wendy Peffercorn (which was not cool, by the way). However, when he shared the legend of “The Beast,” he illustrated the power of a good story. This is one of those fundraising lessons you’ll hear again and again. Why? Because it’s true!

The importance of telling a great story can't be overstated. That's why this fundraising lesson is so important.

Every one of the kids knew and believed the story. After Smalls hears it, he’s visibly shaken by the rumors of this man-eating dog. While it’s true that Smalls claims afterward that the story was made up to scare him, once he sees the dog over the fence, he no longer doubts the truth of the tale.

As a fundraiser, you probably know the importance of telling a good story. This scene only reaffirms that importance. Find a way to tell an engaging story that draws supporters in. Make them connect emotionally to the story. But having them feel a certain way isn’t enough. Remember, Smalls claimed the story was made up until he saw “The Beast.” Your story should also offer some proof. Share data alongside your story and use impactful photos and videos to show your donors that “The Beast” is real and needs to be addressed.

Don’t let fear hold you back

Throughout the film, the kids were held back by fear. They concocted schemes to get the ball back rather than asking the neighbor for help. Finally, Benny had to lace up his sneakers and outrun “The Beast” to get the ball back. While he’s ultimately successful, it isn’t without collateral damage. He gets bitten by “The Beast” while running from him, he causes the junkyard fence to fall on the dog, and he destroys a very expensive wedding cake in the process.

This scene reminds me that fear of taking chances can lead to wasting a lot of time and energy to reach a goal when there’s a simpler way. Approach your fundraising fearlessly. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and neighbors for help (this includes asking your board for fundraising help too). If you have a lofty fundraising goal, go for it without hesitation! Sometimes the simplest solution is scary on the surface but is a surefire way of getting what you need. The last of the fundraising lessons may be hard to implement at first, but taking risks can lead to great rewards.

Conclusion

We hope these five fundraising lessons leave you feeling ready to take on the world. The Sandlot is a great film because it grows with you. When watching as a child, the film teaches you to value honesty, friendship, ingenuity, and courage. As an adult, The Sandlot has stayed relevant because it has more lessons to teach. In the case of fundraisers, these five practical fundraising lessons are relevant to your role in changing the world. Learn from them and become the best fundraiser you can be. Don’t listen to Babe Ruth.

You and your donors are doing great things every day. Keep it up!

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