What Nonprofits Can (Still) Learn from the NFL
While recently reviewing the blogs we’ve written we came across a piece, “What Nonprofits Can Learn from the NFL,” originally published in 2017. We wrote it back then because some of our different thinking (from us) relatives kept asking us, “What about that Colin Kaepernick guy?” We’d avoid the conversation, usually with them finishing with something like, “He should just be grateful for what he’s got instead of disrespecting the American flag.”
More than 70 years ago, the great social psychologist Kurt Lewin described social norms as being in a state of tension. Powerful forces are sometimes in place to maintain the status quo against equally powerful forces that would change it. Tension builds, and then — sometimes suddenly — change sweeps in. The Berlin Wall comes down. Same-sex marriage is ratified throughout the country.
In 2017, we were watching water seeping through the dam that would burst in 2020 and usher in the second great civil rights movement in American history: Black Lives Matter.
Sometimes the actions of one person can tip the scales. Sometimes the behavior of a single lone nut, in this case Colin Kaepernick, can spark unimaginable change.
What Nonprofits Can Learn from the NFL
September 27, 2017
If your job is in peer-to-peer fundraising, you are in the movement business. Although no two movements are exactly the same, they all have some commonalities. The TED Talk by Derek Sivers, “How to Start a Movement,” captures the features of movements beautifully in just three minutes. (Go watch it and come back. This will make so much more sense if you do.)
Paraphrasing Sivers, here are the steps involved in starting a movement:
- First you need a leader, someone who is not afraid to stand out and be ridiculed.
- Then you get your first follower. The first follower “transforms a lone nut into a leader.” The leader must embrace the follower as an equal, so now it’s about the two of them — plural.
- A movement must be public. Others will join. They emulate the followers, not the leader.
- As the movement gathers momentum, there is a tipping point where it becomes less risky to join the movement than to be left out of the movement and face ridicule.
Former NFL Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick was a lone nut. He was the guy who famously took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem before games to protest discrimination and brutality against minorities by police. The events of the past week transformed him from a lone nut into the leader of a movement.
Because of President Trump’s comments, a tipping point (see No. 4 above) was reached, where it became less risky to join in than to be left out.
At NFL games around the country last weekend, there were many more knees taken during the playing of the National Anthem. Some white players took a knee or stood next to teammates with a hand on their shoulders in support. Some teams locked arms. At games in Detroit and Nashville, the people who sang in the National Anthem themselves took a knee when they came to “Home of the Brave.” Owners — including the Dallas Cowboy’s Jerry Jones — joined in with their players as they knelt.
Oh yeah, the tipping point was most definitely reached.
What can nonprofit leaders take away from this in the increasingly politicized — and polarized — environment that many of their organizations find themselves operating in? Some nonprofits have been in the political fray for a long time and carefully walk 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) lines. But it appears all are being dragged in, sometimes unwillingly. The tipping point for nonprofits is approaching.
There is a good argument that the missions of the vast majority of nonprofits are by definition nonpartisan, transcending political considerations. Cystic fibrosis, cancer, autism are all equal opportunity afflictions. Organizations’ missions that involve curing these diseases try to stay out of politics, afraid (with good reason) that they might offend some of their constituents.
Most nonprofit boards are resigned to helping their organizations just do their best in whatever climate they operate in. They don’t shape the landscape; they respond to it, but there may come a time when it isn’t possible — or responsible — to remain on the sidelines.
The recent Graham-Cassidy Obamacare repeal bill is a good example. How would it impact the treatment of people who are affected by conditions many health-care nonprofits serve? Should a nonprofit that funds medical research speak out publicly for or against legislation, or should they leave it to the 501(c)(4) organizations to manage? Our world at Turnkey is peer-to-peer fundraising. Should that massive movement machine of peer-to-peer be pointed at policy? Can we do that and maintain legal status? Can we stop that machine if it goes off without the nonprofit’s blessing? Should we try?
These are difficult decisions, involving complicated issues. And the situation for every organization is unique. But perhaps it is time for more nonprofit leaders to consider having a greater voice in calling the game.
It’s hard to be a lone nut, but if you’re passionate — and right — you won’t be lonely for long.
Just ask Colin Kaepernick.
Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton have written a book, Dollar Dash, on the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising. Click here to download the first chapter, courtesy of NonProfit PRO!
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.