How to Grow Your Nonprofit Like Super Mario (6 Nonprofit "Rules" You Need to Follow for Success)

Derik Timmerman

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Ever played Super Mario as a kid?

super mario

If yes, I bet you still remember the rush of excitement you felt each time you passed on to the next level.

You grabbed a ton of gold coins, evaded the evil Koopas, and saved the beautiful princess.

But here’s something you probably never considered:

You never would’ve won at Super Mario without knowing the rules.  

I don’t mean which button to press or how many seconds to wait before “jumping” over a bad guy.

I mean the rules of the game that allow you to win.

Let me explain.

Let’s say, for instance, that you forgot the Koopas (those little turtle-shelled guys) could kill you.

What would happen?

Well, you’d ram straight into one and it’d be game over.

Or let’s say you didn’t know your main goal was to save the princess.

You’d go around in circles, and never win.

Now, here’s the interesting part:

This is exactly what new nonprofit leaders do.

They’re in the game, but they forget the rules that allow them to win.

In this blog, I’ll show you six essential rules that lead to success, and how to grow your nonprofit with them like Super Mario.

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6 ESSENTIAL RULES YOU NEED TO FOLLOW TO EXPONENTIALLY GROW YOUR NONPROFIT

The truth is, you don’t always have to be stuck in the rut you’re in right now.

You don’t always have to wonder, “Where am I going to find the next donor?”

Or, “How will my nonprofit ever have enough funding for all our needs?”

Simply follow these six rules, and you’ll be on your way to serious growth.

Rule #1: Get Your Hands Dirty

I get it.

We all once envisioned a future of sitting in a glass office while our employees ran the show for us.

Or setting out on a cruise to the Caribbean and forgetting we had a business or nonprofit at all.

But here’s the thing: it never works like that.

Ask yourself this.

Can you play Super Mario on autopilot?

No, right?

He’d smash into enemies, fall into a ravine, and ultimately never get to save the princess.

The bottom line is, you can’t be hands off with your nonprofit.

You have to get your hands dirty doing the work.  

If you can’t pledge your blood, sweat, and tears to see your nonprofit grow…

…you should close it down right now.

To inspire you, here’s Super Mario risking his life to accomplish his mission. (Notice how he’s getting his hands dirty and giving it his all?)

super mario works hard

Rule #2: Stomp Out Distractions

Remember the cute turtles that make up most of Bowser’s army?

You know, them.

super mario koopas

Well, here’s the thing about them.

They’re distracting.

They prevent Mario from completing his mission.

Out they come, cute and innocent-looking.

But they take A TON of time to deal with.

The secret to getting rid of them?

Stomp right on their shells and run for dear life before they wake up again.  

As a nonprofit leader, you’ll run into a ton of distractions.

Maybe it’s a new guru selling you on a bunch of stuff you NEED for growth.

Or maybe it’s hype around a new method X used for 10x growth.

Or maybe it’s all going on in your head. Ideas crop up every single day, making you confused and distracted.

Here’s my advice: stomp on the distractions right now.

No ifs. No buts.

Jump on those turtle shells and run from them as soon as you can.

Here’s an inspiring quote to pin to your bathroom mirror.

starve your distractions

Rule #3: Build Your Team

As a Super Mario fan, you already know Mario isn’t the only star of the show.

He has a bunch of friends who help him along the journey.

For example, there’s Luigi…

luigi

 …there’s Toad…

toad

…and there’s Yoshi.

yoshi

Look at any game and you’ll notice it’s not all about foes.

It’s also about friends.

The same is true of you.

YOU HAVE FRIENDS.

They’re all around you.

There are the volunteers who give your nonprofit a ton of value without asking anything in return. 

There are your employees, who keep showing up despite the tough nature of their jobs.

There’s your board, who goes through the same heights and valleys you do.

Now that you have all these awesome people around you, it’s time to build up your team.

Here are three steps to take you there:

  • Lead collaboratively. As I mentioned earlier, getting your hands dirty doing the work is essential to success. But don’t forget this isn’t only true for you. It’s also true for your employees, board members, and volunteers. You need to allow them to get their hands dirty, figure out how to do things themselves, and gain access to all the tools they need for growth.
  • Develop good relationships with people on your team. Remember what author Stephen Covey once said? He said, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” In leading your team, it’s important to build strong relationships by deeply empathizing with everyone in it.
  • Create shared goals. Forget what I said about sticking your goals to your bathroom mirror. Post them on your office bulletin instead, or anywhere your whole team can see them and be inspired on a daily basis.

Rule #4: See the Threats and Opportunities for Growth

Ah, Super Mario.

By now you’ve guessed what a huge fan I am.

Because really, playing Super Mario keeps your brain 100% active.

You have to look out for all the bad guys and be quick to avoid them.

But also, you need to watch out for opportunities to grow.

Like when you “eat” a flower and grow twice your size.

The same is true when running a nonprofit.

You have to be awake at all times to see both threats AND opportunities for growth.

According to H. Jackson Brown, “Nothing is as expensive as a missed opportunity.”

h. jackson brown quote

Here are four tips from Entrepreneur every opportunity-seeker should follow:

  • Always keep your eyes peeled for opportunity. Often, it’ll be right in front of you, but you won’t be able to see it unless you look hard enough.
  • Never stop learning. As the quote goes, “Never stop learning because life never stops teaching.” Read and research nonstop, and you’ll earn the knowledge you need to spot opportunity everywhere.
  • Step out of your comfort zone. Don’t expect things to change if you stay the same.
  • Network like crazy. Grow your contacts list, and your opportunities will grow with it.

Rule #5: Get Clear on What Defines a Win Every Workday

When playing Super Mario, you can either run straight to your goal…

…or you can collect coins on the way.

Like this.

collecting gold coins

It depends on your strategy.

But here’s the thing: 100 gold coins gives Mario an extra life.

Which means, the extra time spent gathering the coins turns into a benefit down the road.

The point?

You don’t have to change the whole world every single day. 

You don’t have to land a donor every single day.

You don’t have to receive more funds every single day.

What you DO need is to win every single day.

And to be clear on EXACTLY what a win is. No matter how small.

Maybe it’s just reaching out to 10 new donors.

Or collecting a bunch of email addresses from a talk you gave at a church meeting.

Or simply seeing that your employees and volunteers are excited and motivated.

Make every day a win.

Gather gold coins on the way to your ultimate goal.

You’ll be surprised to see how they help you later in the game.

Rule #6: Stay Focused on Who You Wanted to Help in the First Place

I know, Super Mario is fun.

And to be honest, you can get lost in the game itself.

It’s easy to forget your ultimate goal when you’re busy stomping on Koopas and jumping over Goombas.

It’s easy to get lost in counting how many gold coins you collect.

But you’ll never make it that way.

Unless you save the princess, you’ll never win the game.

The same is true with running your nonprofit.

You can get lost in all the jazz.

You’re busy busting naysayers and proving the world wrong.

You’re busy employing strategy after strategy to gain funds.

But if you lose sight of your ultimate goal, the person you want to help in the first place?

You’ll lose focus and start going downhill.

You’ll never grow and truly do something to change the world.

So do yourself a favor.

Each week, sit down and remember why you wanted to help in the first place.

Picture the person who needs you.

Refocus.

In the end, your nonprofit will only be worth it if you help that person.

mario saves princess peach

READY TO TAKE YOUR NONPROFIT TO THE NEXT LEVEL — AND GROW LIKE SUPER MARIO?

I know, there are times when you feel stuck.

Your nonprofit isn’t growing.

Funds trickle in slower than a river during a drought.

Your employees and volunteers are restless and uninspired.

If this is happening, it’s time to give your nonprofit a closer look.

Because, just maybe, you only need a small tweak to turn things around.

Maybe you just need to build up and inspire your team.

Or stop falling prey to distractions.

Or refocus on the person you’re passionate about helping.

Here’s the deal.

Go back and read the six rules above one more time.

Go over them slowly and picture your nonprofit in their light.

Apply them.

In no time, you’ll be amazed to find yourself rising out of the rut you’re stuck in and going on to achieve great things for the people you care about.

Need more guidance to grow your nonprofit and change the world?

Watch our FREE masterclass today for the step-by-step essentials of nonprofit leadership.

About The Author

Derik Timmerman is the founder of Sparrow Nonprofit Solutions. When he’s not serving nonprofit leaders, he geeks out on philosophy, outdoor trail time, and video games with his three kids.