Five Fundraising Lessons From Jack Bauer

I assume Jack Bauer needs no formal introduction. But for those of you that have never watched the award winning show Jack is the larger than life figure that single-handedly rescues the world from complete destruction in a given 24-hour period. He successfully did this over seven TV seasons. Now that the show has been terminated I often wonder who will keep us safe?

Jack oddly enough carries many of the qualities needed for successful fundraising. You may be asking – what the heck does this gun-toting, hard-driving, single-minded torturer of terrorists have in common with fundraisers?

Well let’s see – Tenacity. Adaptability. Messaging. Tactics. Success.

First and foremost the guy has tenacity. He doesn’t give up. He keeps going and driving to the end goal of stopping a nuclear bomb from being detonated without regard for anything else, including his own well-being. I’m not suggesting that you die raising funds – but quite frankly, most of us need to gain a higher level of tenacity. We need to focus and drive harder to meet our objectives.

Quitters don’t win – it’s that simple. And in order for us to win we need to be determined to overcome the obstacles in front of us and persevere in our endeavor – regardless of the obstacles.

Secondarily, Jack has an innate adaptability to any given situation. At any given point Jack is within inches of adverting disaster yet for some reason the game changes and he has to adapt and readjust to the changing landscape. A failed plan, an unforeseen snafu, efforts sabotaged by those around him – you name it; he’s got to deal with it.

But Jack doesn’t let it keep him down. He shakes the set-back off, readjusts, and moves forward. Isn’t this what we do every day in fundraising, especially major donor fundraising? Well, that’s been my experience. Just when you think you are on the right track the donor throws you a curve ball and doesn’t behave the way we intended. Okay, fine. Let’s readjust and move on. Don’t let a change of plans, as disruptive as it may be, derail the objective.

Thirdly, messaging – it’s almost a running joke – but for 24 aficionados there is nothing like hearing Jack say, as only he can – “thousands of lives are at stake, tell me where the bomb is!” or something like that. This refrain is repeated many, many times during the 24 hours. Jack stays on point  there is no question about it.

He is on a singular mission to save thousands, if not millions, of lives. He never forgets this and always reminds those around him of his goal.

We need to do the same thing. Embrace the key message and repeat it over and over again. “Your generous support will help thousands of young people overcome, etc., etc.” – you get the picture. Bottom line – stay on point with clear and compelling messages.

Forth, Jack is unconventional. The tactics used by Jack vary for sure – from picking a lock, to hacking a computer, to shooting people, to cutting off a terrorist’s head – and does it all with innovation and skill. It’s gruesome and pretty over the top – but he deploys tactics that work and solve problems for the given circumstances. He seems to know how to break through the clutter and find the unconventional way for solving a conventional problem. We need to do the same.

If a certain tactic doesn’t provide the desired outcome try something else.

We need to be looking at the tactics and methods we use to reach our constituents and explore innovative ways to engage with them. It’s no longer okay or even relevant to use the old tried and true ways of communicating  we need to learn to reach people where they are and with the methods they are most comfortable for them.

And lastly, he is success driven. Jack does not give up until he is successful. Period. He carries it through. Yes, it was a long, hard road to success but he never, ever wavered from his goal and in the end he reaps the rewards. But like Jack, successful fundraising is a bittersweet victory because there is a price to pay and a new challenge around the next corner. Just when we finished this piece of business we need to move onto the next. There is no rest for the weary. If you want to be successful you need to push yourself to this end.