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The Parallels Between Sports and Effective Nonprofits

If you know me, you know I’m a Chicago sports fan. I follow all of Chicago’s professional teams closely. Something many don’t about me is that I’m not a White Sox hater. Really, I’m not. I’m simply ambivalent towards them. They don’t excite me. Never have and never will.

I especially follow the Cubs in the summer and the Blackhawks in the winter. When I was a kid and either the Cubs or Blackhawks would lose an important game in extra innings or overtime, I would pout. My mom used to look at me and shake her head. More than once she asked, “Do you think the players are spending time pouting the way you are?” Sometimes Sue gives me that same ‘grow up’ look. Sorry, I can’t help it. I guess it’s part of my DNA by now.

I see some parallels between what these two teams are doing and what it takes for a nonprofit to be effective:

  • The Cubs and the Blackhawks have a ‘system’ or way of doing things. It’s taught and embedded in all levels of their organizations. There’s a Cubs way of practicing fundamentals like base running, pitching and defense and it’s taught at all levels – the same way. This reminds me of creating a culture of philanthropy at all levels of a nonprofit organization.

  • The Blackhawks have coaches and scouts who look for the types of athletes who fit their way of doing things. They actually say “no” to athletes that don’t fit their prototype. Similarly, nonprofits should have a plan in place for cultivating their best donors which is different and more detailed than how they communicate with donors who give only occasionally or in small amounts.

I could continue with the comparisons, but you get my point, I’m sure.

One more thing both the Cubs and the Blackhawks have in common: Strategic Alignment. Both organizations have one playbook, one clear strategy, one plan to carry out the strategy, ‘One Goal,’ which the Blackhawks have made their mantra. Everyone in both organizations is responsible for executing this strategy. From what I can tell, everything is built, every decision is made, to support that strategic alignment.

Nonprofit agencies can benefit a great deal from having this same discipline around supporting one single strategic direction. Unfortunately, factors like major donor or ED personal preferences, or lack of leadership and management discipline often disrupt the goal of strategic alignment.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve faced these same problems that the Cubs and Blackhawks are overcoming. Tell us about your experience having been part of putting a strategic alignment in place for your nonprofit.

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