As an avid sports fan and participant I often find myself inspired by the achievements of sportspeople across the globe, particularly during the Olympics. I’m not much of a crier, but the medal ceremonies often set me off. This is not because I can imagine their pride at representing their country, or even the pride of their families, who have given up so much, more that this is their reward for all those hard yards, early mornings, personal sacrifices and the physical pain they have put themselves through in order to achieve often marginal Olympic victory.

Listening to Adrian Moorhouse, 1988 gold medallist for Great Britain in the 100 metres breaststroke, comment on the swimming events in Rio, it reminded me that Adrian kindly came to give a talk on performance for free at our annual staff event when I was Director of Fundraising at a Children’s Hospice. After his Olympic success Adrian became increasingly interested in the factors that improve human performance and established the now hugely successful Lane 4 HR Consultancy (unsurprisingly Lane 4 was Adrian’s gold medal winning swimming lane).

What has always stayed with me from his talk is the positive total impact that a collection of small margins can make; for Adrian he spent weeks working on his turn to shave off 0.7 seconds. This incidentally was his margin of victory. Successful Team GB rowers talk of hours spent pushing their bodies to the limit in order to eke out an extra half a second of speed at the end of a race. The incredibly successful Team GB cycling team have addressed the weight of the paint on their bikes to reduce drag. I’ve heard of runners cutting their shoelaces as short as possible to keep their weight down.

Over the years I’ve considered how this approach could be applied to the voluntary sector, fundraising in particular. Fundraising Teams often spend hours and days ‘Blue Sky’ thinking, looking for that special new campaign, the next Ice Bucket Challenge, social media sensation, big event, great celebrity-backed appeal, but not a great deal of time on achievable small margins with impact beyond the sum of their parts.

I decided at a team meeting a couple of years ago to test this theory and together we found small improvements around database use, better phone conversations, improved thanking, personalising appeals, better internal communication, legacy prospecting, sharing success, all of which had the potential to significantly improve our income.

Imagine if a collection of small changes increased the performance of each of your fundraisers by 20%. What would that equate to financially in your charity? It would also be sustainable, not a spike one year as a particular campaign or project takes off. It may not be as exciting as the next big thing, but it’s a hell of lot more likely to happen.

I can’t imagine that Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are looking at a great new way to ride a bike at the Tokyo Olympics; they’ll be committed to the small margins that through repetition will make a big difference. When their disbelieving competitors question how they do it, looking for some magic ingredient and can’t find it, the answer is simple; there isn’t one, it’s a magic collection of invisible small ingredients that make champions.

Give your major donor programme a health check now