5 lessons for nonprofits from the Seahawks’ bizarre Super Bowl loss


seahawksHi everyone. I am trying to calm down enough so that I can write this week’s blog post. But I can’t. This post is going to be crappy. Because the whole City of Seattle, probably the whole world, is wondering “WTF, Seahawks?!!!!” This is painful. They were half a yard from touchdown, and from winning the game, and they decided to THROW the ball?! The Patriots intercepted, sealing the most ridiculous ending to a football game ever.

Everyone in Seattle is going through the stages of grief right now. Of course, this is Seattle, so the stages are: Denial, Righteous Anger, Hot Yoga, Organic Juice Cleanse, Bargaining at a Farmer’s Market, Composting, Existential Despair, Biking to Happy Hour, and Acceptance…of Marijuana.

Seahawks, did you forget that you have the most effective running back—Marshawn Lynch—in the history of football?! Was he invisible?! Why didn’t you just give the fricken ball to Marshawn so he can barrel through the Pats and win us our second Super Bowl so that I could polish off my third Corona and write “What nonprofits could learn from the Seahawks, Super Bowl Champions, part 2”?!!! (Read part 1 here)

Arghhhhh, I just don’t understand how we could have lost!! No one does. What the hell were the Seahawks thinking?!! It was as if they wrote a huge and very difficult grant, spending months on it, with everyone doing their part, filled out all 19 attachments, and at the end, they decided to just…not hit the Submit button. “Meh, we don’t really need this grant. We already got a grant last year.”

As much as it pains me, I need to bite the bullet and process this heartbreaking loss and learn a few lessons from this. Especially since the NFL, you know, is a nonprofit and all (See “What the NFL would look like if it were an actual nonprofit“)

Five lessons nonprofits could learn from the Seahawks’ bizarre Super Bowl loss

Take more risks. Early in the game, instead of taking a much-easier 3 points from a field goal, Seattle decided to gamble on a riskier move by aiming for a touchdown. Taking that risk worked for the Hawks and they tied with the Patriots. That was a good calculated risk because there was plenty of time left on the clock. Even if it had failed and they got no points, they still had plenty of buffer to recover.  

Applied to nonprofits: Oftentimes we nonprofits play it too safe. We need to take more calculated risks. Hire that passionate but less experienced staff. Try some new fundraising strategies. Get some other snacks besides hummus and veggie platter for your community meetings.

Don’t just innovate for innovation’s sake. Sometimes we should take risks. And sometimes we should avoid it altogether. I think what’s soul-crushing about this loss is that we had it in the bag. But for some inexplicable reason, the Hawks decided to be creative, innovative, cute, and clever. I don’t know. Maybe they had an amazing strategy in their heads. But from everyone’s perspective, it was a bizarre and confusing and overthought call, probably the worst in Super Bowl history.

Applied to nonprofits: We should not always chase the shiny, sexiest, latest trend. (See “Bright Shiny Object Syndrome and its effects on the nonprofit sector“). When we are so close to reaching a goal, choose the safest, most boring, most unspectacular path that guarantees success. Sometimes the safest paths are the most effective. For instance, let’s support capacity building, general operating, staff development, etc. It is so frustrating that we have to fight for these “boring” but consistently necessary things because people want to invest in the latest, trendiest stuff. Funders who “only fund new programs” or “won’t fund indirect costs” and nonprofits who “chase funds” need to reassess their priorities.

Give everyone on your team a chance. There are lots of players on a football team, but fromkombucha-e1291686012707what we hear from the media, there seems to be only three or four. Wide receiver Chris Matthews didn’t get much attention. Until tonight, where he was totally amazing, making four catches and setting up critical touchdowns for the Hawks. He made the first catch of his NFL career at this Super Bowl. From what I read, the dude and his agent kept asking to be given more chances to play. Despite our weird defeat that will haunt us forever like the “mother” in our organic kombucha tea of shame, Chris Matthews was awesome in this game and no one will ever underestimate him again.

Applied to nonprofits: Never underestimate anyone at your organization: staff, board, interns, volunteers. Sometimes I talk to people in the sector and they are frustrated because they feel like they never get a chance to use their skills. People who are naturally in the limelight—the ED and board chair mainly—often forget that there are people on the side who have amazing talents and can do some kick-ass things. Worse than being overwhelmed with work is being underwhelmed by not having enough meaningful work to do. Look at your interns, practicum students, introverted staff, or that shy volunteer or board member who doesn’t say much. Check in with them about what you can do to make their experience more meaningful. Reach out to them and figure out their strengths and the cool stuff they can contribute. Notice people. And believe in them.

Never give up. The Hawks exemplify this, as documented by their incredible win against the Packers two weeks ago. They never ever give up. And sometimes, because of that mentality, they luck out, like they did with Jermaine Kearse’s insane catch today, where the ball bounced what seemed like a dozen times all over his body before he caught it, taking the Hawks so close to the end zone. Sooo…close…

Applied to nonprofits: Our work is daunting, and so many wonderful people depend on what wejob-stress and our organizations do. And we face just countless obstacles: restricted funding, single-year grants, ridiculous and time-consuming reports, micromanagement by funders, requests to do expensive stuff but not given resources to do it (like financial audits and program evaluations). We spend so much of our time having to justify our work instead of being able to do it. It is easy to lose morale, to feel hopeless. But we can’t give up; we must have hope and keep going even in the face of despair, because our world needs us to.  

Community matters. As painful it is for Seattle to lose the Super Bowl after coming within inches of the prize, it has been a great ride. I didn’t know much about football at all, and became kind of bandwagon fan after the Hawks made it to the Super Bowl last year and football was unavoidable. Football was a weird language and I didn’t understand it at all. I started reading up on the rules and stuff and suddenly it started to make sense. And I found that the greatest thing about this sport where a bunch of dudes throw an egg-shaped ball and shove each other around, is the community it builds. The last two weeks especially have been great. People were nicer to each other. Everyone seemed happier. And the ice at any meeting could be broken with a simple “Go Hawks.” And we now turn once again to each other to help us through this loss. 

Applied to nonprofits: One of the most important things that nonprofits do is that we build community. This is hard to measure and is not often funded. But we cannot take this for granted. When we do a good job, our organizations and programs instill in people—our clients, staff, board, volunteers, donors—a sense of belonging to a community that cares about them, where they are seen, where they matter. (See “An immigrant kid’s reflections on community.”)

There are other lessons I can think of, and you probably can too. Like “Watch the clock” and “Don’t overthink things” and “When you start to care about something, you risk getting your heart stomped on with cleats. But like falling in love, or making risotto, it’s worth it.” But I need to go to bed. Writing this post has been helpful to help me process my newfound sports-related despair. Yes, it was a painful defeat in light of the fact that we were so close to winning, and so close to making history, and that our loss was mostly our own fault. But the fact that Seattle made it to the Super Bowl twice in a row is pretty amazing. And it was awesome how the Seattle community has come together because of our team. And while that last call was weird, we all know that history rewards the victors; if throwing the ball had resulted in a touchdown for the Hawks, we would have called it a brilliant gamble. We still love our Hawks. We still believe in them. They’ll be back to win Super Bowl 50.

All right, I need to go. I think composting something will help me calm down.

Congratulations to the Patriots for a great game.

Go Hawks!

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