by Ben Golding, Chief Operating Officer, Advancement Resources


Last week, we had the honor of working with New Zealand’s top academic institution, Victoria University of Wellington, with the primary purpose of building a partnership for their upcoming campaign. We wanted the workshop to resonate with a Kiwi audience, and to do that we needed to start anew with many of our learning examples.

So what do socks have to do with this?

Let’s take a trip back to the early 1990’s. At this time there was an on-going and ferocious battle for one of the oldest competitive sporting trophies in the world—the America’s Cup. For the 170-year history of the sailing race, Team America nearly never lost. In 1992, Team New Zealand lost once again to Team America in a lop-sided race off San Diego. The defeated team’s captain, Sir Peter Blake, vowed never to race in the cup again.

But the following year, Blake had a change of heart. He felt that sailing was the soul and spirit of New Zealand, and the country deserved to win the America’s Cup. His passion for sailing led him to make a huge leadership commitment, mortgaging his house for the $75,000 entry fee. Next, he set a vision—that with the right team and right boat, New Zealand could beat Team America and bring home the Cup. He created a nearly perfect crew: not always the best sailors, but the best team members. He found the right supporters that partnered to fund the multi–million-dollar endeavor.

Then he crowd-funded the venture…with socks.

During an interview, Blake revealed that his wife gave him lucky red socks, and when he wore them, the team won their races. The whole of New Zealand got behind this idea of lucky socks and thousands of pairs were sold as a fundraiser for the team. Then his vision came to fruition. On May 14, 1995 Team New Zealand became only the second team in over a hundred years to beat Team America in the Cup races. Five years later, the Kiwis won again—the only team outside of America ever to have defended the cup successfully.

Sir Peter Blake provided one of the best examples of inspirational leadership in fundraising that I have encountered:

  • He was the first to commit his own resources, answering the question, “Do you have skin in the game?”
  • He was able to articulate a compelling vision—something that was big, challenging, difficult, audacious, and important.
  • He became a champion, spreading the vision everywhere, to everyone.

Our team was so inspired by this story that I bought a pair of “Sir Peter Blake’s Red Socks,” myself.

We know that donors scale their giving to the opportunity. Leaders need to be able to articulate audacious goals to build support and create inspiration. We asked our participants at Victoria to dream big and answer this question, “If I gave you $5,000,000, what would you do with it?

How would you answer that question?