5 Lessons Nonprofits Can Learn from the Oscars

Every year, Hollywood’s finest come together to celebrate the previous year’s accomplishments in the cinema world. Celebrities hobnob, dresses are compared, faux pas are committed. It’s a glorious, media-hyped time for all involved. Then, after hours of preamble, the actual awards are announced and the award winners are called to the stage.

There’s an unspoken art to accepting an Oscar well. You can do it right, with grace and panache, or you can do it terribly and stamp out all the goodwill just you earned.

Here are five important lessons nonprofits can learn from the Oscars this year, with examples of each.

Know Your Audience

For Oscar winners, there are plenty of assumptions about what kinds of speech you can give, what kind of dress you’re allowed to wear and whom you can thank. If you speak too long, your mic will be muted and the orchestra will play you offstage, as happened during Life of Pi’s Visual Effects acceptance speech, sadly.

Nonprofits benefit from understanding their audience and the expectations their constituents have for them. Learn to listen to your donors and figure out what they value. Understand accepted email marketing practices. Talk about what donors care about. Tell a story and understand your mission’s outcomes.

Thank Them Humbly

A good thank you is humble, not self-aggrandizing. Think of Chistoph Waltz’s acceptance speech – he acknowledged the Academy, his director and fellow cast members. The award itself speaks to the achievement. Oscar winners don’t need to brag more–they’ve already got the golden statue!

The same goes for a nonprofit. If you already have the donation, your donors have expressed faith in your cause. They’re on your side. So thank them, and do it with humility.

Don’t Make it About Yourself

This goes hand in hand with thanking them humbly. Nonprofits should be like Daniel Day Lewis:

“I really don’t know how any of this happened, but I do know that I’ve received so much more than my fair share of fortune in my life.”

…instead of being a Quentin Tarantino:

“If people are knowing about my movies 30 or 50 years from now, it’s going to because of the characters that I create … and boy, this time did I do it!”

Your nonprofits are the lifeblood of your mission, not you. Your constituents care about your mission first, not you. Don’t be a Tarantino and make it all about yourself.

You’re Selling Your Brand, Too

When the Academy votes for the Oscar winners, they aren’t just voting for movies and performances. They’re voting for specific individuals and their histories, successes and personalities, even if it isn’t acknowledged outloud. If you think none of Ben Affleck’s winning votes were for being the underdog, think again.

You represent your nonprofit’s brand out in the world, so act accordingly. When people donate and support your organization, they’re often donating and supporting because of the individuals that represent the organization. Protect your goodwill and grow your personal brand.

Have a Personality

Nothing is worse than the celebrities who blandly read scripts from a teleprompter. We don’t want automatons and corporate spokespeople. We want people we relate to and just plain like. That’s why we love it when Jennifer Lawrence trips walking onstage and then gives pushy reporters a matter-of-fact interview backstage afterwards. We like that gal.

If your donors really like your nonprofit–if you have personality and a brand that inspires–they’ll rejoice in your successes, too. That’s one of the big advantages of small nonprofits: it’s easier to craft your distinct style and personality. Embrace that strength.