What nonprofits can learn from the Olympics
The 2012 Olympics in London will be remembered for many firsts: the first to have women represented from every competing country; the first double amputee participating with able-bodied athletes; and the first with a social-media-engaged audience. When the Olympics wraps up tomorrow, there will be many moments of human achievement and indelible lessons that sports fans will remember. Here are the top five lessons that nonprofits can take away from the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
1) Maintain Focus – Olympians are extremely talented individuals but they did not reach their pinnacle of Olympic gold by sheer talent alone. Their ability to focus on their athletic prowess, learn from failures and block out distractions brought them to the world’s biggest sporting arena. Honing their athletic skills for years, or even decades, and rigorous training of body and mind are what make these athletes medal winners. The takeaway for nonprofits: an organization, like an athlete, needs to be competitively fit and focused on its mission, fundamental principles and strategy. There will be a plethora of diverse issues and demands in the communities you work in, pulling your organization in different directions. Going back to the core mission and strategy to succeed will keep nonprofits from losing focus.
2) Celebrate the Individuals – Famous athletic stars like Usain Bolt and Gabby Douglas have great stories of achievement that are celebrated. But virtually unknown women from Saudi Arabia and Brunei are equally worth celebrating for being trailblazers as the first women from their countries to ever participate in the Olympics. Every nonprofit is comprised of individuals who give tirelessly to support the cause and have broken molds along the way. It is up to nonprofit leadership to effectively manage, acknowledge and encourage their own stars and fearless spirits.
3) Team Work – While Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin are great sources of inspiration for millions, we also watched these athletes share their winning joy with their team mates, coaches, family and supporters. Whether in individual events or team competitions, these athletes put in their best effort to create world records and gold medal moments. Nonprofits, like sports, need people to work together towards common goals. Managers have to believe in the concept of collaboration and maintain consistent emphasis on cross-functional teamwork, transparency and sharing best practices.
4) Be Social but Stick to Rules – The 2012 Olympics has been deemed the first social media Olympics, due in large part to the tidal wave of content from the Twittersphere. This Olympics has given sportspeople and organizers a great opportunity to engage with the legions of fans around the world. However, this proved to be challenging with some athletes (or their accounts) being banned because of offensive comments or for breaking rules set by the IOC. The lesson here for nonprofits: there is a great push for all organizations to promote their brands and engage with their communities through social media. While being social is an excellent way to gain visibility and supporters, it needs to be carefully managed. Nonprofits have to develop clear social media policies and train staff and volunteers about their social media use. Because social media is instant and can have lasting impact, use the opportunity to listen to your stakeholders and share great content, but beware the consequences of a poorly managed presence.
5) Winning – Olympic athletes are great embodiments of determination, sacrifice, endurance and sometimes heart-wrenching stories. That said, the Olympics is about winning – proving to be the best, fastest, or strongest in the world. Athletes measure their performance regularly and adjust their techniques to produce the best outcomes – which will hopefully earn them an Olympic medal. Nonprofits, like great athletes, often have inspirational stories and need a high level of endurance to succeed. At the end of the day, if a nonprofit’s strategy is to solve a particular social issue, it must show measurable results. Sometimes, the nonprofit sector shies away from the term “competition.” However, leaders should maintain and ignite a competitive attitude to realize the organization’s vision, promoting a focused determination to win.
For further reading, we encourage you to also check out the 7 Things NPOs Can Learn From NBC & the Olympics by Dan Portnoy on razoo.com
(Photos courtesy: Olympics website, PNC Bureau, Daily News America.)