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  • Writer's pictureCaterina Sullivan

What NGOs Can Learn From Usain Bolt

Updated: Nov 4, 2018

Image credit: Nick Webb

You probably watched Bolt racing down the 100m finish line two days ago, making history as the first man to consecutively win three Olympic medals for the same sport. Bolt completely dominated the competition, and he did it in style.

There is a lot that NGOs can learn from Usain Bolt. As a matter of fact, any business – profit or non-profit – can learn from Bolt in terms of marketing, branding and standing out.

For one, in order to ensure your message gets heard in an extremely crowded marketplace, NGOs need to start thinking above and beyond ‘competition’. Yes, I said it. Competition. And NGOs all have it. While we all like to think that we are all fighting for the common good, at the end of the day, how you stand out will attract sponsors and contributors regardless of what cause you are championing.

Think about it, there are at least 20 national and regional NGOs concerned with youth and children. How do you get your message heard among the masses? While competition within the NGOs stream may not be as ruthless as the rivalry experienced between corporations, we still need to think of NGO organizations as a business entity.

Investing in Your Brand

Are you part of a cause? Are you volunteering your time and / or money for an NGO? Are you passionate about it? If your answer is yes, then you need to start thinking above the competition and dive into domination and the best way to do this is to invest in your NGO – become the go-to person for your cause. Become the best there is so people will look to you and your organization for help, aid, advice and insight. Usain Bolt is a stellar example of a person who’s pushed himself to the top of his competition and created an amazing personal brand in the process.

Maintain Your Brand Message

Do a quick Google search and type in ‘fastest man on earth’. What do you get? See what I mean? Now go ahead and type in ‘refugees’ and what do you get? UNHCR. In the case of Bolt, he keeps his message clear – in his presentation, style and ultimately his performance.

What can NGOs do? Well, not run 100m – unless you want to. But essentially, you want to focus. You want to keep your brand and everything else connected to your brand clear and concise. From your colours to your focus on your causes to your online and offline presence, everything needs to be projecting the same message no matter what platform or avenue you use. Make sure the community around you benefits from your work. From then on, your message will keep growing. In no time at all, you will be able to secure funding easily; corporations and organizations will want to work with you, and you can eventually be sustainable for years and years to come, even to the point of becoming a global presence.

Keep It Consistent

String after string of continuous success has enabled Usain Bolt to ensure the spotlight will be on him, making sponsors and corporations acknowledge his presence until his credibility got him a partnership with PUMA and nine other global brands that want to cash in on his star status. This makes him now worth USD60 billion. Bolt has enjoyed an unprecedented string of gold medal finishes.

For NGOs wanting to build and work on their brand, consistency is key. Any branding guru will tell you that it only takes a maximum of 5 impressions for someone to remember a brand. In a world of fast-paced information, getting your message across and garnering a good impression is much more than just one amazing article or one viral video or one great fundraising event.

Bolt doesn’t just settle for gold medals – he makes sure his runs are all record-breaking. Outside the track & field, he owns his own online store, has social media channels and an animated film on its way and even a documentary. He even has his own emoji!

So apart from keeping your message clear, it also has to be consistent. Take a lesson from Bolt and many other athletes and celebrities out there – use whatever available tools you have to be heard, to be seen and to be used to create and reach out to a massive audience.

Be Authentic

In the social media world, people are quick to point out if they spot something wrong. Internet trolls are alive and well. While there are some people who are quick to commend, there are others who are quick to critique. Millenials especially are quick to point out if something viral is genuine or not.

With Usain Bolt, his complaints about hating training or his fast food cravings and his crazy post-race celebration makes people want to be friends with him even more. He’s fun, and he’s relatable, he’s compelling, and that’s what makes him authentic.

He has made sports fun and vibrant, just like himself. So for NGOs, the secret to preventing a burn out is to be relatable. Be compelling. NGOs already have a reputation for being poor or dull or usually ‘not about the fun stuff’. Take a page out of NGOs such as Red Nose Day that puts the fun element back into social causes and issues because, yes, you can have a good time while still saving the world! Being authentic is about being true to who you are and what your brand represents so always remember that you want to stand out and not blend in.

There is so much that NGOs can learn from how famous people brand themselves and project themselves. Sometimes a little bit of a different outlook can help push through NGOs struggling to take their place and cement themselves in the hearts and minds of people.

This article was originally published on the Global Goals Australia Campaign website.


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