5 Nonprofit Lessons from The Walking Dead

Rick Grimes, "The Walking Dead" (Photo via Gothic.net)

I’m a big fan of all-things zombie and especially the AMC series The Walking Dead. I have a lot of company as a record-breaking 3 million people joined me last week to watch the third season premiere. If you’re not familiar with the show it’s about a small group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse who must survive in a world turned upside down. They’re led by Rick Grimes, a small-town police sheriff who’s trying to save his wife, son, and the stragglers they’ve picked up along the way.

While you may not share my love for the semi-dead, you may agree with this: most of us are surrounded by these mute, will-less, dumb, sometimes evil, and dangerous brutes everyday. The zombies stalking nonprofits are the people and situations they face daily that threaten their success or even their survival.

Scary stuff, for sure. Fortunately, my zombie-like interest in The Walking Dead has taught me a few lessons and tricks. Ignore them at your own risk!

Get In Shape

A lesson learned from The Walking Dead is that the weak, slow, or distracted quickly become zombie meat. Your cause too will meet a horrible end if you’re weak, out-dated, or poorly conditioned.

How to stay alive: Make a commitment to something new that will make a real difference to your cause and stick with it. It could be updating your technology, learning social media or–my personal favorite–giving cause marketing a try. The point is that you have to flex your muscles or someone else will have them for dinner.

Kill With Efficiency

The Walking Dead survivors have been on the run for two seasons. Not surprisingly they’ve gotten skilled at killing zombies with guns, knives, crossbows, metal poles, and anything else you could put through a zombie’s brain (the only sure way to kill one). Rick and his crew use what’s at hand to get the job done. So should you.

How to stay alive: Take a good look at all the things your nonprofit does. What are your bread and butter programs that work year after year. Can you enhance their success or replicate another success from them? When the nonprofit I last worked for figured out the formula for raising money from businesses, we didn’t stop, and we recruited 40 new corporate partners.

Beware of Small Spaces

People get eaten when they get trapped and have nowhere else to go. It’s a sad, gruesome way to die. And this could happen to you when you confine your nonprofit to one small area, whether it be grants, events, or individual gifts. Don’t limit yourself to one thing. Spread out and give yourself some room!

How to stay alive: Start exploring a direction for your nonprofit and set one new course before the end of the year.

You Need a Team

A lot of the characters on The Walking Dead don’t like each other, but that doesn’t stop them from sticking together. They know they’re stronger as a group and wouldn’t survive if they were alone. It takes a village. Even as a one person business, I have a team. Megan Strand is my cause marketing consigliere and co-author of a new book I’m writing. My webmaster Caitlin Dimare-Oliver fixes things when they break down so I can keep on fighting (and running). If I’m looking for new stuff to write about, Geoff Livingtson’s tweets always have something interesting. And for comic relief–after a long day of slaying zombies–I have my buddy and fellow blogger John Haydon.

How to stay alive: Look around at your team. Are they people you can rely on, or are they looking more like flesh-eaters that are sucking the life out of you? Replace them with vegetarians that you trust and respect and push you to survive and thrive.

Check the Back Seat

I can’t tell you how many times someone has gotten eaten on The Walking Dead because they didn’t look under a bed, or in a closet or behind a door. Such a senseless way to go! But you too are sacrificing yourself for ridiculous reasons.

How to stay alive: When it comes to the cause marketing work I specialize in, it’s important to focus as much on your partner’s success as your own. Know your assets and the value you bring to a partnership. Don’t show up to a business meeting with a 100-slide PowerPoint that no one wants to see.

I could go on and on, but what would you add to this list? How can nonprofits use their brains instead of being food for a zombie?

14 thoughts on “5 Nonprofit Lessons from The Walking Dead”

  1. Hershel planned to be working the farm u2013 and life changed. What happened yesterday may not be as important as what you face tomorrow. Planning the future should take looks at the past but donu2019t become one of the victims by only looking back and failing to adapt to reality. Setting goals, strategies and tactics are critical. Review the plan regularly – be flexible and adapt the plan as the world changes. The plan should not be a book on the shelf u2013 some opportunities died and new challenges are in front of you. Adapt to reality.

    1. That’s another great observation! Hershel would’ve never imagined his life would turn out this way. And from last night’s episode, another thing to learn from him is to continue moving forward, even when the going gets tough.

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  3. I would love to know how to go to the Board of Directors of a non-profit, when I (a volunteer) have information regarding their PR/Fundraising/Program Director that has a sketchy past and has completely destroyed 3 prior non-profits, to the point they no longer exist. Any ideas?

  4. Even u00d6tzi the Iceman, from the stone age, knew he needed to invest in new technology to survive. When they found his body recently they found a copper ax, a tremendous improvement for his time. NPO’s should embrace technology and the new tools to strive, instead of looking at everything as an expense.nnnFurthermore, being a pioneer is great (there is a lot of trial and error involved), but following the lead also has its benefits. NPO’s should look at those “competitors” that are doing great and do what they do to strive. In the intent to save money, I see the management trying to solve problems by saying “what so I do at home to solve X? It could be mobility, wifi, storage backup, file sharing, office supplies, etc, etc. That’s wrong. They should look at their next competitor, partner, or whoever is doing better than them and do what they do. It is proven that it works!

  5. Funny how a common movie/tv series can be so relevant and deliver such profundity to real life situations. Great Post!

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