3 Nonprofit Lessons from The Masters

For golf nuts, life begins in April, the month of arguably the most prestigious golf tournament in the world: The Masters…Congrats to El Niño Sergio García!

If you’re even a casual golf observer (or a self-proclaimed ‘social golfer’ like me), you probably know of some of the traditions of The Masters. The azaleas. Amen Corner. The $1.50 pimento cheese sandwiches. And the Green Jacket.

The Green Jacket is a symbol of victory over the greatest assembly of golfers in the world. While I’m not the best golfer by any stretch, I have taken lessons on and off since childhood (I even have the 3rd place trophy—out of 4 kids—from age 12 to prove it), and enjoy watching The Masters every year to see the best of the best.

While I was watching this year, I got to thinking: How can lessons from elite-level golf pros apply to our world of nonprofit management?

  1. When the great Tiger Woods won his first Masters by a superhuman 12 strokes, he changed his swing just two months later. WHAT??? Woods says after the hoopla died down, he viewed hours of video of his Masters play. He said he did not see one thing wrong with his swing; he saw 10 things wrong. He said he felt like he had “gotten away with murder” in winning that tournament. Lesson: Even when things are going great, never stay complacent. Keep learning and be willing to make adjustments in your operation that you know will pay off in the long run. A quote that I love that encapsulates this is from Tom Peters“Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence—only in constant improvement and constant change.”
  2. Little things can make the difference. All pro golfers drive the ball a long, long way off the tee. Everyone oohs and ahhs. But short shots and putting can win tournaments. As they say, “drive for show, put for dough!” When the average margin between first and second place in a PGA tournament is less than 3 strokes, anything that shaves a stroke or two off a score—a new way to read greens, a different pitching wedge, a change in nutrition and hydration—can make a big difference. Lesson: Small but fundamental details can win the day. A highly visible, beautiful campaign may not get you to the Green Jacket if you’re sending it to the wrong people or if your follow-up process is missing a step. Be willing to test and tinker. It could bring greater results.
  3. Who wins Masters tournaments? A mix of famous pros and newbies. There are a number of outstanding golfers competing for (and winning) that Green Jacket whom most people have never heard of. And they are not intimidated by names like Mickelson, McIlroy or Spieth. Lesson: If your nonprofit is a new one or your fundraising program is young, fear not, you can compete—and succeed. Be willing to take some lessons, listen to other pros and work hard.

So tee it high and let it fly!  You can be a master in your world.


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