Non-Profit Marketing is Like Figure Skating, Needs Technical & Artistic Merit

Figure Skating JudgesWorking in non-profit marketing is like the sport of figure skating. We are being judged both on artistic and technical merit (aka style and substance). Both are necessary to succeed.

In the non-profit marketing world, technical merit requires having the knowledge, experience, skillset and education to succeed.

Artistic merit is having the cultural smarts to get things done in an organization and having the capability to communicate, collaborate and inspire others effectively.

One without the other is an average, C-level employee (and I don’t mean the C-Suite). The greatest technical skater who doesn’t have artistry is severely limited reaching the highest level. And a skater with amazing artistry needs the master of basic technical skills.

While these skills apply in just about any organization, I feel they’re more important in the non-profit world. Here’s why:

Self-Motivation is Critical. In the non-profit space, there isn’t always a Coke-Pepsi, Marriott-Hilton type competitor nipping at your heels. Employees have to be self-motivated to push harder when there isn’t always an external force doing it for you.

It’s a Relationship Business. Volunteers in your organization can be analogous to shareholders, but the key difference is that volunteers’ investment is emotional. That seemingly subtle difference means you are a caretaker of the cause they feel the most strongly about. It is about results + relationships.

Lead from Behind (at Times). Every non-profit has its own culture. Non-profits often stand for a societal cause, which brings passion. The know-it-all employee who doesn’t recognize that gets chewed up and spit out. Leadership can sometimes be more effective from behind.

Do More with Less. Non-profits rarely have the benefit of corporate marketing budgets, and in some cases organizations have no marketing dollars at all. That means employees have to be scrappy and be willing to look for ways to stretch every promotional dollar.

Strategy Creep. I believe non-profits are more vulnerable to the temptation to “be all things to all people.” Since our missions are built upon serving others, we tend to want to say yes when people want our help. Former USOC marketing head Matt Mannelly once told me, “Unless you have said no to something, then you don’t have a strategy.” I will always remember that advice. This requires employees to keep self-discipline in making decisions.

A Lot of Bosses. We have a leader just like every other organization, but we also have a lot more bosses that include members, sponsors, coaches, donors and even the American public. If you lose sight of your many bosses, you’re dead. It’s a relationship business.

Working in a non-profit is inspiring and rewarding work and it’s personally motivating to get up each day for work. The best employees understand and embrace the differences and “get it” when it comes to both technical and artistic merit.

Note: See my other blog installment on “7 Tips for Getting a Job in Olympic Sports

Update (11/18/2013): Great insight in this article from Forbes magazine that talks about the leadership skills needed to be a university president. There are a lot of parallels to Olympic and NGB leaders.


Categories: Marketing

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