Lessons We Learned from Game of Thrones About Fundraising

The final season of Game of Thrones is coming to a close, and as fans eagerly await to learn who ends up on the Iron Throne, I’ve taken the time to reflect on the series and how we apply each GoT family’s mottos to our daily fundraising lives. 

Each family has something unique to tell us about fundraising and how we can take these words to heart. Continue reading below to see which of the Westeros noble house mottos best describes your 2019 - 2020 fundraising priorities. 

'Arya Stark' by Göker Cebeci


House Stark - Winter is Coming

Giving Tuesday and Year End is right around the corner. Most organizations bring in nearly 40% of their annual revenue during this time period in December. You should always be preparing for “winter” by cultivating and growing and cleaning your lists. This ensures ensuring your constituents know the value of the work your organization performs and provides providing persuasive reminders about the impact their gift will have on behalf your cause.

How can you prepare for Winter? Other was fundraisers can prepare for Winter include:


House Lannister - A Lannister Always Pays Its Debt

Yes, this is not the official motto of House Lannister (that would be “Hear Me Roar!”), but it is the phrase most associated with them. Throughout the series, whenever they have been slighted (paging the Red Wedding), they have returned the debt in triplicate. How does this relate to fundraising? Have you been ignoring list hygiene? Because that debt will come due at the most inopportune time. We’ve had clients encounter deliverability issues during EOY, when they need to raise money most urgently.

Pay attention to your deliverability and open rates. If any of them drop below your typical number, that should be cause for concern and you should launch an immediate investigation. Work with your eCRM and come up with actionable solutions to get your list deliverability high and stable.


House Martell - Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

House Martell famously says they are unbowed, unbent, and unbroken because they were the only family not to be defeated by Aegon Targaryen and his dragons. This family used their strengths to their advantage to defeat the Aegon the Conqueror.  When you head into your key fundraising periods, you need to know what works and what doesn’t. Using the the time in between these campaigns to test and find your organization’s fundraising strengths is key. Whether its email campaigns, donation form optimizations, or new advertising creative, you always need to innovate and test.

Sometimes you come up with a new idea and it fails. Don’t worry! It’s not the end of the world. You’ll get it next time, and now you know what doesn’t work for your audience. Persistence pays off. And come December, you’ll know what tactics to use to get your list to give more.


What sort of tests should you be running?

  • Subject line tests for emails

  • Copy tests for emails, ads, and donation pages

  • Imagery and Call to Action testing for ads, donation forms and emails

  • And small and major donation form tests to move the needle to a higher conversion rate and/or average gift – from ask string tests to imagery tests to a complete overhaul of your form.

  • Test different audiences in ads throughout the year in order to understand which will provide the best return. That way you can focus your budget on the audiences you know work in December.

  • Test ad tech. Just like in Westeros, there are new technologies and magical powers unearthed at every turn. Channels like Paid Search and Paid Social experience massive upheaval with each new or removed feature. Learning to harness this technology for next End of Year is critical.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but this gets you started and hopefully, inspires you to look at your digital program with a new “testing eye.”


House Tyrell - Growing Strong

The Tyrells have it right! They rose (pun intended) up quickly as one of the most powerful houses of the realm during Aegon’s conquest of the Seven Kingdoms. They rose to prominence because they opportunistic and had a deep reservoir of wealth to draw upon when times were lean, ensuring that they remained in power no matter who was king. If you want to have a sustainable future in fundraising, you need to “Grow Strong.” And the best way to do that is with a strong Monthly Donors program. Often, all it takes is asking your donors to grow your program. Think about this:  If you add $1,000 a month in new monthly donors, that could multiply to $12,000 after 12 months!

Some tips for growing your sustainer file:

  • Make it easy for prospects and current donors to become a sustainer. Ensure the sustainer ask is prominent on your donation form, and it has its own custom ask string.

  • Test asking prospects directly to become a sustainer vs. a one-time donor, and use the one-time ask as your fallback.

  • Make the case to your current one-time, repeat donors why you need sustainers to fulfill your mission.

  • Use marketing automation to upgrade donors to a sustainer if they’ve made a certain number of gifts in a calendar year.

  • Use a premium as an incentive.

  • Consider a popup on your donation form that asks one-time givers to change their gift to monthly (using a calculation for their monthly gift based on their intended one-time gift)


House Tully - Family, Duty, Honor

Family, duty, and honor seem to have very little in common with fundraising. However, your goal as a fundraiser is to elicit these feelings from your donors. If a donor feels this way about your organization, your retention rates should increase. 

Maintain that relationship and they’ll give again. 

Some tips for donor retention:

  • Always be in-market with display ads targeting website visitors and existing donors and supporters. This will keep your organization top-of-mind all year long.

  • Display channels like Facebook allow you to upload CRM lists, so you can target existing donor segments during campaigns throughout the year.  

  • Regularly thank your supporters - and report back on results, especially after big tent-pole campaigns that you have been fundraising around for weeks at a time.

  • Provide opportunities for donors and supporters to access exclusive content that other non-givers do not have access to, like webinars, whitepapers, or events.

  • For your larger gift givers, send them handwritten notes or call them personally to show how much you value their gift.

Now that we’ve gone through some of the major houses of Westeros (with no spoilers!) You’re ready to fundraise like a king!  

'Jon Snow' by Göker Cebeci

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