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Rivalries — a tale as old as time. From the early competition between forming nation-states to international sports competitions to the brand decisions we make every day at the supermarket, rivalries are time-honored traditions that span across communities and cultures. Is rivalry fundraising an option for you?

In the fundraising world, the opportunity to leverage rivalries has never been easier with the emergence of digital technologies that allow organizations to seamlessly spin-up targeted pages. These pages act as portals to capture engagement and record head-to-head fundraising results that add another angle to longstanding events.

In this article, we explore the fundraising psychology behind rivalries as well as creative ideas for leveraging head-to-head competitions in your own fundraising.


So, what defines a compelling rivalry? Benjamin Converse, a University of Virginia psychology professor who has studied rivalries, says that the three keys are proximity, competitive parity, and frequent exposure.

There are two types of proximity. The most obvious is physical proximity, as in the case of the University of Wyoming and Colorado State University who host the Border War football game every year. These two institutions are only 65 miles apart and alternate stadiums for each match-up. Every game culminates in the winner being awarded the Bronze Boot, a trophy which is shuttled across the state line in a traditional ceremony.

You can read more about how these two institutions have amplified engagement around this rivalry fundraising opportunity in a case study on their most recent event below.

Relational Proximity

Check out the case study

Proximity, however, can also mean relational proximity. Relational proximity can span any distance but is based on similar characteristics between the two rivals. Examples include two Greek chapters from a single foundation competing against one another on opposite sides of the nation or two different class years from one institution competing against each other for bragging rights on homecoming weekend.

The most important element for this type of proximity is effectively illustrating the next feature of a potent rivalry: competitive parity.

Competitive Parity

Competitive parity simply means that the competition is viewed as equal, meaning any outcome is possible. An easy way to ensure this is to evaluate whether it is better to compete on donors, dollars, or both.

While dollars are the most traditional measure of fundraising activity, it’s not always the best way to create close competition. Take the example of two class years competing: the older class might have greater earning potential and therefore could blow the younger class out of the water on total dollars raised. However, counting donors instead can push engagement for big and small gifts alike, encouraging more net new donors to participate to even the playing field.

When in doubt, measure both! One of the best outcomes is a tie where both sides can celebrate a win.

Whichever measurement you pick, you should always highlight your numbers with frequent updates. Stress the excitement of your event and the time-sensitivity of giving! Plan updates throughout the day to call out your numbers and remind people that the needle can move in either direction.

Frequent Exposure

Frequent exposure is the final measure of a healthy rivalry. Ideally, events should be annual, if not on a more frequent basis. Remember: rivalries can span multiple sports, multiple departments, and multiple events. When you ramp up the frequency, you amplify your opportunity to create a history filled with legends, legacies, and lore that keep people coming back to see what happens next

It also allows donors to begin to plan for your ask so you can build a community of people who share in the highs and lows together. It’s the ultimate way to ensure donor retention for your fundraising efforts!


Looking for ideas on where to start? We’ve compiled a list of events you can use to leverage rivalries more frequently in your annual strategy.

  • Rivalry fundraising around a longstanding athletics game
  • Different teams within athletics competing against one another
  • Food drive or other community-based donation competition between two or more institutions in a close geographic area
  • Class year competition or young alumni challenge by unit
  • Departmental challenges – examples could include engineering senior project competitions, entrepreneurship competitions in the college of business, senior project funding for art students, etc.
  • Greek rivalries between multiple greek life organizations or multiple chapters of a single organization across different institutions
  • Competition between campuses, units, or even dormitories
  • Faculty/Staff competition separated by units or roles
  • Faculty/Staff VS Students VS alumni or other affiliation based fundraising
  • Capital campaigns where supporters choose between two or more developments or physical assets and the winner is awarded a challenge bonus
Katie Haystead

Katie Haystead

Senior Vice President, Partnerships

With over a decade of experience working with K12 schools and higher education institutions’ fundraising efforts, Katie Haystead now oversees the partnerships team at Community Funded. Her passion for partner success and satisfaction aligns with Community Funded’s priorities and Katie’s unique background is well suited to manage the day to day operations of our partnerships team as well as new market acquisition.

Prior to joining the team at Community Funded, Katie served many roles within the Fundraising Division at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Her experience ranges from working onsite and remotely with clients executing phonathon programs, developing annual giving strategies, onsite consultations and also developing multichannel strategies allowing for strong synergy between annual giving channels and creating strong major and planned gift pipelines.

Katie is based in Metro Detroit and is a graduate of Central Michigan University, where she worked for the phonathon for 3 years while working towards her History Major.

Kim Jennings

Kim Jennings

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Kim Jennings, CFRE is a skilled fundraising leader who believes in the power of Christian education to raise up thoughtful, strong, committed leaders who can make our world a better place for all.

Kim Jennings

Todd Turner

Director of Digital Strategies, Generis

In addition to his 11 years overseeing Chuck Swindoll’s Insight Living Ministries communications department, Todd Turner has worked as a digital strategist for faith based organizations across the globe..

Kim Jennings

Jennifer Perrow

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Jennifer is a skilled fundraising and communications professional who helps ministries articulate vision, communicate mission, and raise abundant funds to advance Kingdom priorities.