SeanChisholm
Sean Chisholm
3 min
piggy bank team fundraising

Using Captains to Improve Team Fundraising Performance

Why Team Fundraising?

Unless you’re brand new to the nonprofit world, you’re probably familiar with the concept of “team fundraising.” And if you’re familiar with team fundraising, then you’re probably also familiar with the “team captain” approach to team fundraising. Most people have at least a passing familiarity with both of these ideas because many of the largest nonprofits in the country use them for their big runs and walks.

If you’re not familiar with the approach, the basics are very simple. Usually the nonprofit starts out by recruiting team captains. These captains then go out and build a team of individual fundraisers that will raise money and participate in the race or walk together. Captains are responsible for finding team members, encouraging those team members throughout the process, and making sure that the overall fundraising goal is reached. Makes sense.

So why have some of the largest charities in the country relied so heavily on team fundraising and the use of individual team captains?

Because, simple as the approach may be, it really works. Consider the following findings from a study of six national charities that examined the use of captains in team fundraising: [1]

  • Team captains made up 13% of the participants but raised 33% of all the funds
  • Captains received both larger average gifts and more gifts overall than other participants.
  • Captains got better each year, with multi-year captains raising two to three times more than new ones
  • Fundraisers that were part of a team were more likely to participate in the event again the following year

The  benefits are pretty clear. Encouraging team fundraising helps improve fundraiser retention across years and team captains help you raise more money from more people. All good things.

 Team Fundraising for Online Campaigns

Traditionally, the captain approach to team fundraising has been used for real-world events likes runs or walks, but there’s really no reason you can’t apply the approach to purely online campaigns as well. If you do though, make sure you keep these differences in mind:

Show the Benefits.

Traditionally, part of what motivates people to join a team fundraising endeavor is the desire to participate in the underlying event (whether it’s a race, walk, or something else). This incentive is missing for an online fundraising campaign. Keeping this in mind, it may make sense to introduce other participation incentives to compensate. Mugs, hats, and shirts bearing your organization’s name and logo are all pretty common. Of course, people primarily get involved because they care about your cause, but using other incentives never hurts.

Encourage Team Identity.

A lot of the team fundraising that takes place for races involves team members getting together several times over the course of a few weeks or months to train together. This encourages team identity and helps increase individual team member’s resolve to meet fundraising goals. Team members who are slacking off will feel pressure when they see other team members moving forward with their fundraising. This face-to-face component obviously doesn’t exist for fundraising campaigns that take place entirely online. You can try to get around this by encouraging “digital meet ups” though. For example, you might have your team captains send out weekly e-mails to team members. The message can share overall campaign progress, team progress, and highlight the team members who have raised the most that week. Help your team captains encourage a sense of group identity among team members even if they won’t be meeting physically.

Leverage Friendly Competition.

Groups come together quicker when they face some sort of external opposition. Even though in this case the “opposition” is pretty benign, you can still use this principle to encourage team identity and to make your campaign more engaging. Consider creating not only individual incentives for participants, but some sort of competition between different teams. This will help motivate people and it will give your team captains plenty of great fodder to keep people engaged.


[1] Understanding the Value of Team Captains, Amy Braiterman. Target Analytics, 2011.

Photo from Flickr user 401K

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