Hearing the Olympic theme music on a daily basis throughout the summer and winter every few years always brings a smile to my face.
For those of us involved with the nonprofit world on a daily basis, it is easy to draw quite a few similarities out of this once every two and four years event.
Here are just a few that came to my mind:
1. Measurement Reigns Supreme
The Olympics are infamous for the myriad of extremely precise measurements. This is especially true when those measurements are the basis of new Olympic or World records in any event. Can you imagine watching almost any Olympic event without measurement in terms of time, distance or points?
Most believe this focus on precise measurement provides the foundation for all of the new Olympic and World records we see at every single Olympics. Just think how lost the TV and Radio commentators would be without those precise measurements to use during their broadcasts.
Although measurement and recordkeeping can sometimes be hit or miss in fundraising offices, it can be quite powerful in determining factors influencing success.
Proper measurement is a key to developing best practices when used properly. We will explore this concept further below because tradition is still influencing way too many processes even when proper measurement would prove otherwise.
2. Tradition Shouldn’t Stifle Innovation
The Olympics are the tremendous spectacle they are because of the wide variety of traditions. One need only to look as far as the opening and closing ceremonies to see the immense value of tradition shining through.
A key departure from tradition for the Olympics was moving the Winter games so they occur on a totally different four year cycle.
The professional fundraising world often seems just as bound by tradition. Some of those traditions such as those revolving around ethics are key to building and retaining trust with donors. Others such as processes revolving around events, appeals and campaigns could certainly use the scrutiny of scientific research and testing.
Two traditions I personally hope continues to change over time are the inclination to think top notch professionals should be paid less for doing the same job just because they work at a nonprofit and the inclination to not invest dollars in tools or systems that would enable higher degrees of success.
3. Cyclical Nature Controls Overall Timing
The key fact that each seasonal Olympics are only held every four years leads to numerous timing related factors for the participants. Virtually every participant has to schedule their training and activities in such a manner so as to be at their peak performance during the relatively short Olympics competition window.
This same series of timing issues comes into play for sponsors, volunteers, broadcasters and officials.
In the nonprofit world the cyclical nature of the calendar year often plays a huge role. Nearly every charity budget would be wrecked or severely reduced without the year-end giving by donors of every nature in November and December.
The same cyclical nature comes into play for most charities signature event. Picking the right time of the year and sticking to the scheduling so everyone can make it part of their schedule is more often than not quite critical.
4. Heroes Make a Huge Difference
Obviously, most of us can think of past Olympic heroes from our own country and other countries. The background stories regarding the individual heroes have become a key part of the success of the Olympics as well as the continued rise in interest around the world.
For every successful fundraising organization there are so many public and private heroes. These range from the major donor or high-level sponsor to the foundation providing the game-changing grant.
Heroes in the nonprofit world also include the millions of volunteers who give generously of their time and talent as well as the staff members working extra hours on a regular basis to insure success.
Lastly, the recipients of the work of the mission are often not noticed for the heroes they are. Some of these heroes rise up to be spokespersons or future volunteers themselves!
5. Best Practices Emerge Slowly
The wonderful concept of tradition can sometimes be a two-edged sword. For both the Olympics and nonprofit fundraising mindsets and habits are hard to change. Because of this resistance to change “Best Practices” emerge slowly, often times even in the face of proven data. Let’s explore a couple of examples.
Most of you may not remember just how revolutionary a new way to high jump was to the world of track and field. This method of jumping was so different that the rest of the track and field community literally refused to accept it at first even with the outstanding results it was achieving!
This video illustrates just what happened in 1968:
Now the Fosbury Flop is the accepted best practice in high jumping.
In the nonprofit world of fundraising we could easily cite example after example of such resistance to change making it difficult for best practices to emerge that should.
The most obvious are direct mail practices where traditions are passed down from generation to generation of fundraisers. These range from the number of mailings per year to segmentation practices.
A previous post outlined how scientific research is allowing true fundraising best practices to emerge. Here is the link: https://bloomerang.co/blog/its-time-for-the-nonprofit-sector-to-embrace-scientific-research/
We can all hope the delicate balance of respecting great traditions can blend properly with the exciting results new best practices can bring as the future unfolds.
6. We Have Problems To Overcome, and That’s Okay
It’s hard to ignore all the issues surrounding the summer games in Rio: concerns over the Zika virus, human trafficking and corruption have given the Olympics a black eye.
The nonprofit sector too has its own issues to overcome. Recent scandals surrounding the Red Cross and the Cancer Fund of America have painted an inaccurate picture of the sector’s majority of hardworking fundraisers, just as the world’s athletes suffer from the mistakes of a small few.
There will always be improvements to make, but we shouldn’t let any of that stop us from moving forward!
Now get ready to settle back and enjoy one of the world’s biggest spectacles! If you are in the nonprofit fundraising profession I hope you can draw inspiration as you draw your own similarities!
Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments below!