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Super Bowl Lessons for Nonprofits

January 31, 2012

What Nonprofits can learn from the Super Bowl

Like most people, I am spending a great deal of time reading articles about this Sunday’s Super Bowl 46 match up between the New England Patriots and New York Giants. As I read article after article, I am amazed at how this game and these teams are so similar to my nonprofit clients.

The Patriots, of course, are in their 5th Super Bowl in 11 years. This is a story within the story. ABC news had an article about how Coach Belichick strives for a consistent approach in managing the team. Various team members are quoted as saying “you know what to expect week-in and week-out with him.” “He’s committed to winning and that commitment never falters, no matter what the circumstance.” These quotes would be excellent qualities for any nonprofit organization CEO. A consistent attention to the mission of the organization with a commitment to consistently trying to do a better job is a key to managing a nonprofit organization.

One of my favorite quotes about Belichick is that “The attention to detail is always there.” We frequently say that to make your business 100% better, you need to do 100 small things. There are many stories about how Steve Jobs obsessed about the smallest detail of Apple products. Apparently Belichick is no different and the proof that success is in the details is in the results.

Another phrase I have heard this week is that neither the Patriots nor the Giants are the same team they were at the beginning of the season. When I teach financial management techniques to nonprofit boards and their senior staff we spend a great deal of time talking about the budget process and how to use a budget during the year. I talk about the need to change the budget whenever necessary. This usually meets with a fair degree of resistance. But if something has happened in the first quarter of the year and you need to make adjustments in order to avoid the year becoming a total disaster, you need to make adjustments and change your game plan (the budget) so that you have the use of this valuable tool for the remainder of the year.

Each of the Super Bowl teams started the year with one idea on how they were going to play, what players they were going to use in various situations and what they thought would work for them during the upcoming season. They are in the Super Bowl because they learned what didn’t work devised adjustments, implemented those adjustments and continually refined their game plan until the Super Bowl. So I hope all nonprofit organizations will continually reassess, adjust and revise their plans to succeed.

The big unknown for Patriots fans is Rob Gronkowski’s ankle injury. While I am sure that Coach Belichick would prefer to have a healthy Gronk on the field Sunday, I am equally sure that he has a contingency plan ready to implement. Planning for the unknown problem is also a key factor of success whether in business, the nonprofit organization or the gridiron.

Who will win Sunday? Although I grew up as a NY Giants fan, long before the AFL and the Boston Patriots, I’m rooting for the Patriots to win and I don’t think I will be disappointed. Who you are you rooting for?

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