What non-profits can learn from Bruce Springsteen

I know what you’re thinking… What can non-profit professionals learn from a 67-year old Jersey born rocker? Bear with me and you’ll see where I’m going with this.

A few interesting facts about Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen:

  • Born September 23, 1949 in Long Branch New Jersey
  • Nickname: The Boss
  • He sings, plays the guitar, piano, bass, drums, percussion, harmonica and mandolin.
  • His career began in 1964 but really took off in 1975 with the release of his album “Born to Run”.
  • His Born in the USA single launched in 1984 shot him to stardom where he still remains to this day.
  • He has sold more than 64 million albums in the United States and more than 120 million records worldwide, making him one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time.

So what does this have to do with fundraising? Everything. If you can apply the following to your organization, you will see a huge shift in culture and growth in donations.

1] Be upbeat and be a great storyteller

Bruce is a phenomenal storyteller. His stories are relatable and real. His songs speak of hope and dreams, unforgettable characters and enviable adventures. More importantly, he speaks our language. His lyrics are comforting, inspiring, nostalgic, joyful and soulful. Now think of all those qualities, and apply it to how you write about what your organization does. Your audience will love you for it, open their hearts and their wallets. Better still, they will tell others about you, if you are sincere and memorable.

2] Have a Hungry Heart


Bruce crowdsurfing in January 2016 at his Washington DC concert.

Closing in on seventy, when most people have retired or are considering retirement, Bruce is still going strong, loving what he does and it shows. Age is not a number, it’s an attitude. Despite playing hundreds of over 3-hour shows a year and having recently recorded his 16th studio album, he’s still at it.  If your organization has been around for decades, you may find it difficult to keep the momentum going, especially if you have a mature board and have not reviewed your position in the market recently. Consider talking with professionals about doing a strategic planning exercise to help define your goals and what it will take to reach them.

3] Partner up with interesting people

Bruce has worked with artists as diverse as Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, Billy Joel, Eddie Vedder and many many more. His pairings are always thoughtful and fun. Both for him, the other artists and especially the audience. When considering a corporate sponsor for your organization, fundraising campaign or event, be sure to choose a company that will want to be part of your duet and find ways to create value for both the partner and your cause. Think strategically and be prepared before approaching your target. Companies are over solicited these days and many are writing philanthropic policies that make it harder and harder to access funding. Many are turning to online application forms and removing personal contact from the process. You must research your potential partners thoroughly, formulate a very simple request with clear benefits and have a long term vision for the relationship.

4] Be an inspiration to others

Just as Bruce has inspired countless bands such as Arcade Fire, The Killers and Mumford & Sons, your organization can play a leadership role within the sector. You can inspire your donors, you can inspire your staff, volunteers and the next generation of changemakers. Spend time with your team to look at your shared values and build your philanthropic culture. Get out to industry events, be a speaker, moderate round table discussions on topics you are passionate about. All of these efforts will catapult your organization into public view and increase your brand recognition.

5] Prioritize talent

For having had the great pleasure of seeing Bruce live in Boston under a hot rainy summer sky, I can attest to witnessing his greatness first hand. He interacts with his audience in such an authentic way that makes each fan feel like he’s singing just to them. Imagine if you could make every donor feel like they were the single most important donor your organization has ever known. Creating that deep connection with your stakeholders goes a long way and your communication tools play a big part in that.

Bquote-all-people-have-is-hope-that-s-what-brings-the-next-day-and-whatever-that-day-may-bring-bruce-springsteen-124-82-84esides his own level of excellence, Bruce surrounds himself with great talent made up of some of the industry’s most respected musicians. When hiring your next team member, or recruiting for your board, look for rockstar qualities in the candidates. Don’t settle for anything less than excellent. Look for the sparkle and make sure it’s backed up with smarts. If you are unsure how to recruit top talent or how to conduct proper interviews, ask for HR help. Hire a coach or recruiter. The money you spend on hiring a professional will save you countless headaches and hours of problems down the road.

What ever challenge your organization is facing in the new year, keep the Boss in mind next time you tackle a tough situation. Surround yourself with talent, ask for help when you need it. Create fundraising and communication tools that are worthy of a double-platinum status. Stay humble through your success and be an example to others. Most importantly, love what you do and do your best to touch people’s lives.

Rock on.