Most people associate the Olympic Games with big bucks: huge, exclusive sponsorships, and major advertisers competing for commercial broadcast time. They also might think that the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) — the organization that serves the National Olympic Committee and National Paralympic Committee for the United States—receives federal funding. The truth is, while the USOC is chartered under Title 36 of the United States Code,
and therefore operates under federal mandate, it receives no continuous finan- cial assistance from the U.S. government. It’s a nonprofit organization, and as such competes with other charities for private contributions. When Janine Alfano Musholt joined the USOC as managing director of development
in 2008, followinga 12-year stint raisingmoney for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Asso- ciation (the national governing body for Olympic skiing and snowboarding),“fundrais- ingwas a really, really small revenue stream,” she recently told Convene. Musholt, who was promoted to chief development officer within four months of joiningthe
USOC, has been working to change that. What she’s learned about fundraising efforts that are driven by the ultimate global face-to-face event—the Olympic Games—can inform meet- ing planners whose worktaps into the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations: raising money for a specific mission. Here’s what she had to say.
What is it that you like about fundraising? Everything. I love the challenge of it. I thinkparticularly in this economy, it is just a wonderful challenge. I love the people that I get tomeet—a lot of high-net-worth individualswho are look- ing for ways to be philanthropic and to put some of that money into supporting worthy causes. I love the places that I get to travel to. I really like building a program, which is what we have been doing here at the Olympic Committee. Most people are surprised to learn that there really was not a very significant philanthropic effort here at the USOC; typically, the Olympic Committee had been funded by sponsorship revenue and broad- cast revenue. When I came, fundraising was a really, really small revenue stream. Over the past couple of years, we have been building the program and seeing it grow exponentially.
How would you advise the fundraising arms of organizations that may not have as emotional a connection as helping a young, struggling athlete go to the Olympics? It is funny for me to hear that perspective from you, because that is sort of always my lament — that people do not real- ize that we are a nonprofit; people do not thinkof us as a char- ity the way they might thinkof a health-related charity. I tend to think that we are always maybe the third or fourth kind
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of organization that someone is going to support. They are always going to support their college or university—that just tends to be a natural place for someone to give when they are making a charitable gift. They always choose some sort of health-related charity that has affected their family. And then they will [contribute to a cause in their] community—some- thing that is very relevant to them where they live and work and play every day. So for me, if I can expect to be the fourth or fifth place that
someone gives, that is all that I can aspire to. The message that we tend to talkabout is much more patriotic—it is what the Olympic movement does for the nation in terms of uniting us. It is a big thing that we talkabout lately, just in terms of sort of the partisan-ness of the nation. The Olympics is really one thing that we can all rally around. So that tends to be a lot of our message lately. But I definitely sympathize with the organizations and the associations that think they do not have that tug-at-the-heartstrings [mission] that other organizations have. I think it is [a matter of] figuring out where you are in someone’s giving priorities and then appealing to that level.
How are stories used in your fundraising messages? That is the main thing that we try to do. If you visit our web- site [www.teamusa.org] in the near future, it will be all about the storytelling. It will be all about the athlete, the teams, and the journey that they go on to become part of Team USA. I was at a conference not too long ago, and one of the fundraising leaders for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital was there. It is a great organization. She said they knew that specifically using a seven-year-old, bald-headed girl in their direct-mar- keting efforts would be the thing that boosted their response