At its core, “Game of Thrones” is all about leadership and loyalty. And though the battle for the Iron Throne takes place in the fictional continent of Westeros, in a fictional and vaguely Medieval time period, there are plenty of lessons applicable to the age of Google. Leadership and loyalty are are the core of nonprofit work, too, and there are some excellent takeaways for the nonprofit sector in this tale of dragons, knights, White Walkers, Faceless Men, and wargs.
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!
If you aren’t caught up on Game of Thrones through season 7, turn your horse right around! There are spoilers ahead.
1. Build Strategic Alliances
Jon Snow actually does know a few things. One of the things he knows best is the power of alliances … and how necessary they are for the greater good. He is a born coalition-builder.
Beyond the wall, he forges an alliance with the Wildlings (or “Free Folk”) who live outside the rule of the Iron Throne (and on the other side of the wall that separates Westeros from the frozen tundra the White Walkers inhabit). He even leads a caravan of Wildlings to safety inside the wall, getting them away from the undead wights and White Walkers, much to the chagrin of the Night’s Watch (and that little scamp, Olly).
Later, when he learns that dragonglass (or obsidian) can kill White Walkers, he goes to Dragonsone and meets Daenerys Targaryen (the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons, et cetera … her business card must be insane), who happens to be sitting on giant supply of the stuff. Daenerys allows him to mine the dragonglass, and eventually “bends the knee” to Daenerys when he realizes that he’ll also need her armies and her dragons to defeat the oncoming threat.
And that’s just a sampling of the alliances Jon Snow forges throughout the show. Early on in the series, he befriends Samwell Tarly, who ends up becoming an indispensable source of wisdom and support. He also finds a temporary ally in Stannis Baratheon, who leads him to Red Priestess Melisandre — who uses her powers to help him out of a real pickle, you could say. And he meets Ser Davos Seaworth, who becomes a trusted advisor. Jon Snow spends most of the series running around The North in Westeros, making alliances, picking up useful comrades, and advancing his cause in preparation for the upcoming war against the dead. He is the living embodiment of the piece of wisdom Ned Stark shared in the very first season: “The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.”
The Takeaway for Nonprofits
Don’t go it alone — get out there and form alliances. Work with other nonprofits in the same line of work as you, build coalitions, and gather sponsors. Alliances will help you increase your reach (even if your sponsors don’t come with armies of Unsullied), and help you advance your cause.
Mightycause gives you multiple ways to recognize your allies. You can put your partnership to work with a matching grant. Or, if you’re hosting an Event, you can list your sponsors (and link to their websites) to give them a shoutout and send some traffic their way.
2. Let Your Values Guide You (and Inspire Your Followers)
One of the most compelling characters on “Game of Thrones” is Daenerys Targaryen.
She’s one of the last surviving Targaryens, a noble house of Dragon Lords that sat on the Iron Throne and ruled Westeros for centuries. They were overthrown during Robert’s Rebellion, and when Jaime Lannister killed King Aerys II Targaryen (Daenerys’ father, “The Mad King”), which put Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne (and lead to the events on the show). After the rebellion, she and her brother Viserys were shipped to the continent of Essos. There, she was hidden and kept safe from King Robert Baratheon (who wanted to kill her and her brother, to eliminate their genealogical claim to the throne), and later married off to a Dothraki war lord, Khal Drogo. And that’s where “Game of Thrones” picks up with Daenerys.
While in Essos, she became deeply affected by the slave trade, which is alive and well there. During her campaign to take back to Iron Throne, she made ending slavery her mission. She liberated the slaves in Slaver’s Bay, punished the masters, and invited the huge army of warriors known as Unsullied to join her as free men. This earns her the title “Breaker of Chains,” the devotion of the masses of people she freed from slavery, and one very large army.
Throughout the series, characters who encounter Daenerys are taken by her clarity of vision. She imagines a world without slavery, and works to make it a reality. She struggles with stabilizing the economies of the cities she’s conquered after the slave trade is abolished, but never waivers in her commitment to ending the slave trade. Her internal compass (usually) guides her well, inspires the masses, and wins her devoted subjects and powerful allies.
She also has dragons, which is helpful.
The Takeaway for Nonprofits
Stay true to your vision, passion and story. Make it the cornerstone of everything you do for your cause. And just as Daenerys uses her campaign against slavery to inspire, you can use your story and mission to further your cause, raise funds, and build an army of supporters.
Our simple in-line text editor makes it easy to tell your story, communicate your nonprofit’s message, and augment it with graphics, photos and video.
And, if you can, have dragons.
3. Be Willing to Adapt
Arya Stark is a character that undergoes one heck of a transformation over the course of the series. When we first meet Arya, she’s a lovable tomboy who likes to show up her brother Bran in archery, make fun of her sister for being so girly, and pretend swordfight. She loves her dad, her direwolf Nymeria, and lives a pretty charmed life at Winterfell.
That all changes when her father, Eddard Stark, becomes Hand of the King for his old friend, King Robert Baratheon. Her family moves from their relatively quiet Northern home in Winterfell to King’s Landing, where the family tangles with some very powerful and unsavory characters, and… it does not end well for any of the Starks. It really, truly ends poorly.
After her father is imprisoned for treason, she runs away and lives on the streets of King’s Landing, catching wild birds for food. She ventures back just in time to see her father executed. Then, she disguises herself as a boy, and heads north with a band of misfits to find her half-brother Jon Snow at the Night’s Watch. On the way, however, she and several others are captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners. And then she’s captured by Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, who intends to take her to her family to collect a ransom.
And she doesn’t reunite with her family until the 7th season of the series. She spends a long time traveling. She even ends up in the Free City of Braavos, where she joins a sort of death cult called the Faceless Men, at the House of Black and White. Her goal there is to learn how to be “no one,” and she becomes an assassin apprentice for “The Many-Faced God.” At one point she even goes blind for awhile. Arya goes through a lot on “Game of Thrones.”
But the reason she’s survived, despite insurmountable odds, is her adaptability. She becomes whatever she needs to be in order to survive … whether that’s a street urchin, a boy, a Faceless Man, an assassin. She’s able to surrender to the chaos around her and do what she needs to do. Eventually, she was able to literally put on other people’s faces. And she’s learned important lessons as she’s literally traveled many roads on “Game of Thrones” — she learns from each person she encounters, and takes those lessons with her as she move on to her next journey. (And, in some cases, she takes their faces with her, too.)
The Takeaway for Nonprofits
Adapt or die. Okay, maybe you won’t die if you don’t adapt, but here’s what might happen. Your funding might dry up, your supporters may move on, and you may find yourself unable to keep your programs running. Like characters on “Game of Thrones,” the nonprofits that survive are the ones that are able to weather change and adapt to new circumstances.
One of the things nonprofits have struggled to adapt to is online fundraising. Nonprofits have tended to be a few years behind other industries in terms of innovation, and reluctant to adopt new technology. Right now, there are nonprofits that still have yet to move beyond adding a PayPal button to their websites.
But if want your nonprofit to thrive, you need to embrace change. So, think beyond a PayPal button and adopt Mightycause’s full fundraising suite — which, by the way, costs less than that PayPal button. Try your first crowdfunding campaign, your first fundraising event, and embrace fundraising in the digital age.
4. Knowledge is Power
Tyrion Lannister is a fan favorite. He’s quick-witted, nimble, insightful … and once, he slapped tyrannical King Joffrey right across the face.
Tyrion is an unlikely hero: He’s a dwarf the people of Westeros belittle as “the Half-Man.” His own family, the powerful Lannisters, look down on him. But he’s used his intellect, empathy, and analytical mind to become one of the most important figures in Westeros. As of season seven, he was serving has Hand of the Queen to none other than Daenerys Targaryen.
What Tyrion has that many other characters lack is an understanding that knowledge is power. He seeks to understand the people around him — not just his enemies, but his friends, his Queen, the people of Westeros, and beyond. He knows that by understanding another character’s motivations, passions, interests, weaknesses, and tendencies, he can strategize better (and help tip the odds in his favor). Which might mean helping those he cares about, or harming his enemies.
His knowledge, insight, and gift for strategy is what has elevated him from a drunken “Half-Man” to a war hero and Hand of the King/Queen twice.
The Takeaway for Nonprofits
Get to know your supporters! Tyrion had to carry his knowledge of everyone’s likes, dislikes, and quirks around in his head … but we’ve got a tool that will store it for you. Meet the Supporters CRM tool.
With the Supporters tool, you can get to know your allies. Custom Tagging allows you to sort your donors, volunteers, fundraisers, and so on. Instead of lurking in the hallways of the Red Keep late at night or intercepting ravens to stay on top of everyone’s exploits, the Supporters tool automatically tracks users’ activities on Mightycause and allows you to input custom notes. The better your nonprofit knows its supporters, the better you can communicate with them and tailor your asks to their interests, passions, and past behavior.
5. Be Strategic
Like her sister Arya, Sansa Stark has been through a lot. While Arya ran off and traveled the Kingsroad for several seasons, Sansa lived as a captive of the Lannisters. She was bullied by enfant terrible King Joffrey, manipulated by Queen Regent Cersei, and was later forced to marry Tyrion. When Joffrey met his end at his wedding, Sansa fled, and ended up being carried off to her unstable aunt in the Eyrie, by one of the shows slimiest villains, Petyr Baelish (or “Littlefinger”). And then she was married off to one of the show’s most brutal villains.
She truly can’t seem to catch a break.
But she ends up being one of the strongest characters in the show because she spins her misfortune into power. Like Tyrion, she learns to observe the people around her. She gets to know their motivations, studies the choices they make, and adapts to survive. But unlike Arya, she learns to play the game. And that’s why she does more than survive — she ends up Lady of Winterfell. She played a key role in winning back control of Winterfell from villainous House Bolton. Without her smart strategies and alliances, the Starks may have never been able to return to Winterfell.
The Takeaway for Nonprofits
Strategy is everything. And to have a strong strategy, you’ll need to have data. Mightycause helps with this on several fronts.
All users have control over the donation process and the ability to gather additional information from their donors. Using the Donor Experience tool, you can collect the data you need from donors to follow up with them strategically. And if you subscribe to Mightycause Advanced, you’ll be able to collect even more. (Just to be clear, this data is secure! It’s for the purposes of getting to know your supporters a little better.)
Mightycause Advanced subscribers also have access to Advanced Analytics, which will help you see what’s working, what’s not, and adjust your fundraising strategy as needed.
Mightycause is set up to help your nonprofit organization be every bit as strategic as Sansa. And, as a bonus, we even have a library of ebooks you can download to brush up on your fundraising strategy before you go into battle:
6. Prepare for Winter
Even if you’ve never seen a single episode of “Game of Thrones,” you probably know its popular tagline from early seasons: “Winter is coming.”
“Winter is coming” is a motto of House Stark, a sort of momento mori, as well as a warning. And it begins to take on a more literal meaning as the story progresses. Metaphorically dark times are indeed ahead for the Stark family, but there’s also a very cold, icy threat beyond the wall that is literally marching in their direction. It’s happened before, during a time called “The Long Night,” before the Targaryens ruled. And the Stark family, as protectors of the Northern parts of Westeros, need to practice constant vigilance to keep the North and the rest of the realm safe.
The Takeaway for Nonprofits
Okay, so it’s safe to assume that there are no White Walkers marching toward your nonprofit. But “winter” in the nonprofit world does exist — the nonprofit sector saw it in 2008 and 2009, when the recession hit. Smaller nonprofits were more likely to shut down, and even large nonprofits felt the effects. There were budget cuts, layoffs, and many of the big dogs in the sector were forced to run leaner operations until the economy recovered.
Is winter coming again? Some experts say yes. The writing is on the wall: the new tax bill increased the standard deduction, making it more difficult for anyone but the ultra-rich to write off charitable contributions. Reports about how this impacted giving in 2018 are still trickling in, but the nonprofit sector has reason to be concerned. So, it’s a great time to start preparing for winter.
One way to do that is by diversifying your funding sources. For instance, if you largely reply on grant funding, adding other types of funding (such as online fundraising, event fundraising, and getting more recurring donors) will make your funding more sustainable.
The saying “valar dohaeris” means “all men must serve.” And that what we do at Mightycause. Have any questions about getting your nonprofit set up on our platform, or how to prepare for winter? Send us a raven at firstname.lastname@example.org!