Let’s Kickstart College Football AND Your Nonprofit

This weekend, hundreds of thousands of people will gather together across all corners of the country to celebrate the dawning of a new season of college football. It’s an annual tradition that millions of people look forward to, and are counting down toward.

For many, college football is not just a weekend hobby. It is an obsession and a lifestyle. Wouldn’t it be great if your organization could tap into that kind of following?

Ok, so you don’t have a sport to involve in your daily activities like football. But to be honest, many of the people congregating aren’t actually there to see who wins. (We still see you, hardcore fans that can recite scores from decades ago.)

After observing the habits of fans during college football Saturdays for the last couple of decades, here are some lessons that nonprofits can emulate to grow their passionate fan bases.

1. Forget the Game, It’s All About the Experience

A lot of the time people that show up to the game aren’t even there for the game. They are there for the experience that surrounds the game—the tailgating, the camaraderie and the social scene.

We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with this experience. Not everyone is there to live and die with every fullback dive or inside linebacker blitz. They’re there to soak up the atmosphere, the general positive vibes by all the spectators and hang out with friends both new and old. They’re supporting the home team.

Unless, your nonprofit’s mission relates to youth sports, you probably don’t have games to get people to rally around. Instead, treat your events like your big games. No matter what you’re working on, whether it is your year-end fundraiser, the big service event or even community service project, the focus should be on making it as enjoyable as possible. Sometimes it might not seem like stacking shelves of canned food can be fun, but you can challenge yourself to think creatively to make sure the participants are enjoying themselves.

We understand that all nonprofit work can’t be as glamorous as grilling brats on a grill, but if you make the time the staff, members and volunteers spend with you enjoyable, they will keep coming back for seconds, thirds and even more.

2. Give Donors the Status They Want

Donations to college athletic departments are big business. Some of the top athletic departments in the country, such as Texas, Wisconsin and Alabama, rake in more than $30 million annually from donations. How do they do it? Lots of hard work, seat licensing and rewards that treat their boosters like royalty. For those donations, fans receive better seats, access to special concession areas, premium parking areas and more access to inside the program. Some even give enough to have their names put on buildings.

Now, your nonprofit might not have the opulence of offering dinner with multi-million dollar coaches, but you can do plenty on your own scale to reward and recognize your supporters. While you might not have any buildings to name, you can honor high-end donors with awards or more permanent recognition.

What does access look like at the nonprofit level? A seat on the board of directors or trustees, in some cases. Otherwise, it might be a special tour inside facilities or a behind the scenes guide to nonprofits operations. You can also offer rewards for different levels of donations, with the better rewards coming for higher donations. What will play to the ego of your base to help incentivise them to give more and give regularly? You don’t need to have a large budget to show appreciation for your donors, but the gesture should be genuine and meaningful.

3. Build Up Your Community

College football game days aren’t just a cultural touchstone for people who are going to the game. If you walk around town before kickoff, you’ll see everyone wearing school colors (some good colors, other bad colors), businesses open their doors early and offer specials and the whole campus is abuzz with activity. These college game days are a rallying point for everyone in the community (most of them at least) and the energy is contagious.

Your nonprofit’s events might not be the biggest show in town, but you should still make them high-quality, high energy functions. Make sure your events are inviting and open to everyone. People shouldn’t have to sign up for donations, future commitments or any sort of obligation to participate. Your job is to make them want to come back for more after interacting with your nonprofit.

But it’s not just about your nonprofit’s events. It’s about getting the whole community involved in the spirit of giving to others. It’s about the spirit of the community coming together to celebrate the occasion. Your nonprofit should aim to be an active player in your community as well. You should be out there participating in community events and building rapport with others in the area. While your mission is important and should be paramount in everything you do, it is necessary at times to broaden your approach to build up the community you serve in more ways.


Lincoln Arneal

Lincoln Arneal was a Senior Editor at Nonprofit Hub who brought loads of real-world nonprofit experience to the team. He was the past executive director of a nonprofit that provided leadership development to junior high and high school students. He looked to bring the insights from his time forming, developing, and running a nonprofit to help others in their quest to do good. Lincoln also had a legal background and had written for various newspapers (covering high school sports) for the past 15 years. He could be followed on Twitter at @NPLNK.

August 28, 2014

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