Featured Profile: Joan Wheatley

Featured Profile: Joan Wheatley

This month, Mike and Joan have an in depth talk about integrated fundraising at Special Olympics.

Joan Wheatley, VP, Donor Development at Special Olympics

  1. Where do you think Special Olympics is particularly strong in integrated marketing? 

We have been doing a good job in planning, testing, and combining direct mail, phone, and the online environment as a starting point. In addition, we’ve been working hard to be more donor focused through our integrated work with the underlying assumption that donors are not single-channel focused and that they choose different channels at different times for different reasons.

In the past, direct mail and telephone fundraising were not coordinated, but we’ve made huge strides in connecting these two key channels and by better connecting them, along with online, we’ve made huge strides in improving results – from average gift to retention rates to lapsed reactivation and monthly recurring donors. We know it’s still too early to see the improvements in the lifetime values of our donors through improved integration, but the initial numbers point in a positive direction. 

  1. Special Olympics is a grassroots organization. How is that both a challenge and opportunity for integrated fundraising?

As a grassroots organization, there are a lot of opportunities to better leverage the army of committed, smart, energetic people across the country. These grassroots volunteers and staff who provide the training and competition opportunities for our athletes allow the donor to see our mission up close – to see it being delivered locally. For the international office, we’re driven to find ways that we can use our mass marketing techniques and tie them to the local programs.

If we know that younger donors (Gen Y) want more transparency[1] and specifically evidence of impact, then the grassroots nature of our mission is our opportunity to show them that impact. As it relates to youth, we have an incredible opportunity through schools to engage young prospective donors. We’re beginning to think through what that will look like: does it include mobile, peer to peer fundraising, other channels and strategies? It’s an exciting time in fundraising!

Another area of opportunity for Special Olympics is in the area of integrating middle and major donors asks with the grassroots and we’re beginning to test, and explore, market-proven techniques to provide  training and tools for local staff  to cultivate current constituent relationships into annual giving. . And we are cultivating key segments of our very large donor base, using a combination of mass marketing techniques and personal outreach, to identify those among our loyal donors who want to leave a lasting legacy to our organization through an estate gift.

  1. If you had to choose one area of fundraising at Special Olympics that you are particularly proud of, what would it be? 

It’s not exciting, but I truly think our integrated, cross-channel fundraising model is something that we are beginning to do very well. As we integrate across all channels at a national level, it’s freeing up the local staff to do more high touch fundraising and relationship building.

Doing this kind of integrated fundraising demands new operational thinking. The affiliates are separate legal entities from the international office. We are a decentralized federation in many ways and since collaboration is fundamental to integrated fundraising, it’s always a work in progress. Integrated relationship management of donors demands that we take a much longer view of donor value and that is a work in progress for Special Olympics – but that’s true of almost any charity in the United States today.

  1. What current and future role do you see for Gen Y and Gen X donors for Special Olympics? And what are you doing to prepare for that? 

We know they are the future so that’s a great start! There has been a lot of discussion and thinking here about our future donor, but it’s a balancing act: we can’t ignore the current, profitable relationships with older donors but we need to engage with younger donors at the same time. We have limited resources in marketing so we’re doing our best to balance current needs with future ones in the area of integrated, cross-generational fundraising.

It’s important for us to see youth fundraising and engagement as an opportunity to change attitudes about children and adults with intellectual disabilities. By engaging young people through giving, we get to bring them into a dialogue that’s also about social change, values, and improving the shape of our society.

When it comes to digital, we’re starting in a good place with younger individuals. We have over 750,000 Facebook friends. I realize that doesn’t translate into 750,000 new donors but it’s a very good base to build on the power of social media to build our brand, strengthen and grow our networks, and to raise money.

  1. How are you improving your current and future relationships with Boomer and Mature donors? 

We know through fundraising research and practice that older donors have their preferred channels (like direct mail) but they are becoming very comfortable with digital giving. For Special Olympics, it means that to maximize the relationship with these very important, older donors we need to have a robust integrated, cross channel marketing plan.

It sure is a brave new, integrated world of fundraising and Special Olympics like to be out front – leading the way.


[1] Joan and Mike had discussed the Next Generation of American Giving study

Download the Next Generation of American Giving study here.

View the interactive infographic here.

Download the Next Generation of UK Giving study here.



posted on Aug 20

Leave a Reply