Grit: Winners versus Quitters

This is the seventh installment of our series on Fundraising Culture, by Larry Johnson, Founder of The Eight Principles.  We’ll look at what a culture is.  What is looks like.  The kind of fundraising culture you want.  How to build it and how to keep it.

Ever since junior high I’ve known about the quality of “endurance”.  In phys-ed class they actually measured it.

Endurance is when you keep moving toward a goal even though it hurts.  Even when it gets hard.  Even when you’d rather quit and call it a day.

One foot in front of the other.

Endurance is what distinguishes finishers from quitters.

With endurance you’ll finish, but you may not win.


It’s great to finish the race but with endurance alone you’ll not be in the front.

That’s where many nonprofits find themselves with their fundraising.  They keep slogging.  And slogging.  And slogging.

And they still manage to come in at the back.  There’s honor in finishing a race but what you really want to do is place—or perhaps win.

Clearly something more than endurance is required.

Persistence is when you continue to move toward a goal no matter the obstacles in front of you.  You may have to alter course.  Change strategies.

Where endurance is the sheer power to continue, persistence is evaluating your current place in the race and taking corrective action when necessary.

This is where nonprofit fundraising often goes awry.  So many organizations adopt a plan of action (if you can call it that) at the beginning of the year and slog through it regardless of changing conditions or obstacles.

That’s endurance without persistence.

However, even endurance plus persistence won’t win races.  They won’t vault you over higher and higher goals.

For this there is another quality which must be added to the mix.


Focus is where you have your eye on the BIG goal.  Not just the immediate goal.

With regard to fundraising efforts, nonprofits are notoriously short-minded.  Goals are quarterly or annual.  They are focused on cash received to fund an immediate need.

Winners don’t live paycheck to paycheck.

Such an attitude has nothing to do with money.  It’s about perspective.  Outlook.  Mindset.

Look at any organization with a record of raising more than enough year after year and you’ll see all three qualities at work in their fundraising program.

Endurance.  Persistence.  Focus.

These organizations are above the fray.  You’ll never see their fundraising staff in a fourth-quarter meltdown over a year-end goal.  They had that in the bag in May.

If you combine all of these qualities together you get something called “grit.”  Clinical psychologist Angela Duckworth in her book, Grit:  The Power of Passion and Perseverance, documents the difference between winners and quitters in depth. 

Nonprofit fundraising programs that deliver—and succeed to fuel the vision of the organizations they support—are ones with grit.

How do you get this?  And keep it?

By putting all the arrows in the same direction.  Aligning the thoughts, methods and understanding of everyone on the team.

By first achieving a common understanding and appreciation of the principles which govern all fundraising and philanthropy.

The technical term is “organizational alignment.”  Every high performing fundraising program is supported by an organization in total alignment.

In the coming weeks we’ll explore how you achieve such a lofty goal.