What Getting Locked in a Room Taught Me About Fundraising

Tim Sarrantonio

The timer on the bomb had seven seconds left. Our team was working furiously to get the control panel off the bottom of a railcar seat. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t escape in time.

Last night, several members of the NeonCRM team attended a new form of entertainment called an escape room. These are events where either you and strangers or (in our case) a team of co-workers band together to solve puzzles to achieve the ultimate goal of unlocking the door and getting out.

These events focus on three main things:

  • Communication
  • Information gathering
  • Thinking outside of the box

Those three things also happen to be bedrocks of running a successful fundraising campaign. Let’s take the time to reflect on the lessons we learned last night and apply them to your own fundraising challenges.


Our game was located inside the historic Flat Iron Building in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. We were tasked with breaking out of a runaway public transportation railcar and were instructed that everything could be unlocked with mental skill as opposed to physical might. The biggest asset we would have is each other.

Constant communication is needed for both an escape room as well as running a successful fundraising campaign. If one person is working to solve a problem but doesn’t have all the information that can help them achieve it, you won’t get anywhere. Making a plan beforehand on how to communicate with your team will ultimately lead to success.

Using a donor database can also help! These platforms centralize all of your organization’s important information so that it’s universally accessible to your staff, ensuring that you’ll always be on the same page.

Information gathering

Obviously the point of the escape room was to solve puzzles and get out. However, we were blown away at just how many different types of obstacles were thrown our way. There were math problems, riddles, and games of skill that ensured our team was constantly buzzing with activity.

Fundraising is quite similar – think about how many times that plan you made beforehand goes awry. Perhaps the mailing house increased its fees or the venue you picked out is double booked. How can you further predict what will happen?

The simplest answer is to gather as much information as possible on your options and to dive right in. Taking the time to examine the path forward will ensure you’re not further blindsided by the challenge you’re facing, while keeping in mind that time is not always on your side.

Thinking outside of the box

One of the first things we were told is that solutions to our puzzles were not always directly connected to the items we were holding. The answer may be located on the opposite side of the room, so thinking creatively was a vital skill.

As mentioned above, the best laid plans always have a wrench thrown into them. Your organization’s ability to not only dive into the obstacle but to approach it from a different angle may mean the difference between failure and success.

There are a great many ways to raise funds – some of them traditional, some of them not. No matter what type of fundraising your organization practices, you should always approach any challenge with an open mind.

The best piece of advice we received last night? If you’re stuck on a problem and are getting frustrated, walk away and ask someone else to take a fresh look at it.

One of the final things we did was ask about how we performed against other teams. Being able to benchmark your success is a vital component of growth and learning.

Special thanks to Escape Artistry for hosting us. Escape rooms are just one fun way to build team rapport and communication skills. What team building exercises does your organization practice to keep you energized and excited for your work?

Image by: Freepik

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