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Bill Murray and the Fundraising Time Loop

Nonprofit Fundraising

Have you seen Groundhog Day?

You know, the movie starring Bill Murray.

It’s the one where he plays Phil, a weatherman sent to cover the emergence of the groundhog from its hole.  Surely a weather forecaster’s favorite assignment!

But then a blizzard comes and he gets stuck in a time warp where he wakes up every day to Groundhog Day and has to relive that same day until he gets it right.

If you haven’t seen the movie then you are working entirely too hard! Stop everything and go watch it. I’ll wait.

(And if you don’t know what an event Groundhog Day is, check out this video.)

The movie is a classic.

At first, Bill Murray is dumbstruck and miserable.

He is confused about what is happening and feels trapped. He initially responds by feeling like nothing matters. If the day is just going to start over again then who cares what decisions he makes.

But eventually, he starts to take advantage of the situation and begins to make better choices about the use of his time.

You see, he fully remembers everything about the days he keeps experiencing. This is a HUGE advantage and one that I often find myself wishing I had.

For example, Bill Murray masters playing the piano even though he hadn’t a clue the day before, but since he kept repeating the same day over and over and over he was eventually able to play like this…

Of course, not all of his endeavors were in the arts. He also steals money and gets thrown in jail throughout the ordeal. But, eventually, Phil starts working to improve himself.

He starts learning everything he can about everyone in town and he memorizes every event that takes place in that one day.

He uses this information to start helping as many people as possible, and of course, to woo Rita, the woman he loves.

So what does any of this have to do with fundraising!?

Well, Erik, over at Donor Dreams asked fundraising bloggers to reflect on what advice they would give their younger selves if time travel were possible.

I thought that was a great question and after some reflection, I realized that that the best advice I could give my younger self was to watch Groundhog Day.


Yes, really.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from Phil in Groundhog Day and here’s why my advice to my younger self is to watch this movie and pay attention to the lessons it teaches about fundraising.

Fundraising can feel like a time loop

Have you ever felt like you just completed a big campaign only to turn around the next day and start planning the next one?

Churning out newsletter after newsletter after newsletter…

Churning out direct mailing after direct mailing after direct mailing…

Updating social media after updating social media after updating social media…

You know?  Kind of like you are stuck in a time loop where every day is Groundhog Day.

When I first started feeling this way I reacted much in the same way Phil did when he was first caught in the time loop.

I got desperate. I started running myself ragged, feeling like every event had to be THE event that would set me free from the repetition.

“If only I could raise 15% more than our target. I might be able to take a breather for a few weeks.”

Of course, that only led to exhaustion and frustration and did nothing to help me actually improve the effectiveness of my fundraising.

It wasn’t until I stopped resisting the repetitive nature of fundraising and actually started to embrace it that I made true breakthroughs in fundraising.

Just like Phil in Groundhog Day, every new fundraising campaign is an opportunity to learn something new, to improve on what you’ve done before, and if you start paying attention to what you learn, then you can make sure every campaign is better than the last.

The repetitive nature of fundraising can be a big advantage

Eventually, Phil started making better use of his time by experimenting with new things and tackling big challenges.

The enemy of effective fundraising is doing things a certain way because that’s the way they’ve always been done.

The decisions you make should be based on what works! Not what you did last time.

Phil eventually learns this lesson and commits himself to experimenting with new ways of doing things to see what kind of impact they have on his day.

What doesn’t help gets discarded. What works is kept.

Make sure experimentation is part of your fundraising efforts and then keep what works.

You have to learn everything you can about your donors in order to win their hearts

Phil wants nothing more than to win Rita’s heart, but he can’t even begin to start to impress her until he first learns everything he can about her. What is she interested in? What does she like? What does she want? What is she looking for?

Phil is committed to learning everything he can about Rita so he can win her heart. You should do the same with your community of support.

Whether it is your donors, volunteers, members, or alumni. Knowing what they want and why they’re interested in your organization in the first place is essential to building a long-term relationship with them.

Focus on the one thing that will make the biggest improvement in your fundraising

Phil was singularly focused on whatever it was that would help him get Rita to fall in love with him. He did everything he could to impress her.

He learned to play the piano. He learned French. Whatever it took to make sure that he was making strides in getting her attention.

Should you learn French? Probably not.

But, you should identify the one thing you can do that will make the biggest difference in your fundraising and then commit the energy necessary to make that one thing a reality.

Maybe that one thing is setting up an automated email welcome series.

Maybe that one thing is writing better stories for your website.

Whatever it is, do what it takes to get it done.


It may seem a bit silly to suggest that Groundhog Day has anything to teach us about fundraising, but I hope you at least found this a bit entertaining and I hope it gave you some ideas as to what you can do to make your fundraising more effective.

If you feel caught on a hamster wheel start thinking about how you can use that to your advantage. Experiment with new things, keep only what works, learn everything you can about your community of support, and identify the one thing you can do now that will improve your fundraising.

Understanding these lessons years ago would have been quite helpful. I hope they help you now.

Keep doing good work,
Jeremy Signature



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