Sunday, April 27, 2014

8 Points Associations Can Learn from Ohio State’s Marching Band

The hugely successful Ohio State University Marching Band incorporates several practices for associations and nonprofit organizations.

I gleaned ideas from band director Jonathan Waters’ presentation and discussion with the Ohio State Alumni Club of Southwest Florida. I’ve shared some other ideas in two previous posts:

  • Secrets from a Hugely Successful Marching Band
  • The Engaging Story Behind Innovation, iPads and the Ohio State University Marching Band
The Ohio State Marching Band – the first college marching band in the U.S. – is steeped in traditions yet exhibits innovation and creativity that associations can discover.

Here are some key points for associations and nonprofits:

Traditions with Innovation

The band retains many traditions while focusing on innovation. Here’s how:
  • Today’s innovations become tomorrow’s traditions.
  • Started campaign for new uniforms and some alumni starting asking, “What are you changing the uniforms?” They quickly realized that they needed to change wording to “replacement uniforms.”

Systems for Everything

Waters believes that having systems for everything enhances the ability to be innovative. And the Ohio State Marching Band has lots of systems:
  • Tryouts (to join the band)
  • Challenges ... each week anyone can challenge anyone for a spot in the band
  • Music checks ... to ensure the quality of the sound
  • Bus loading, plane loading, equipment handling, etc.
  • Policies & procedures


  • Band members are encouraged to share ideas for innovation: whether songs, formations or themes.
  • Waters shared that two band members conceived the idea for using iPads for band planning, rehearsals and the exciting moving performances.


  • Freshmen and new band members are partnered with more senior members. The mentors help share the band’s traditions and culture as well as help with educational issues. (The current band members have a 3.6 GPA.) 

Servant Leadership

The band’s leadership involves squad leaders who have four major responsibilities:
  • You are your brothers’ keeper
  • Servant leadership
  • Decision-making
  • Communications

Community Service

Recognizing that today’s students are cause oriented, the Ohio State Marching Band has initiated a community service program they call March to Pay Forward:

  • Students in the band are out in the community doing charity work for the American Red Cross, The Gladden Community House, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Stefanie Spielman Fund, Hospice visits, Girl Scouts, and Buckeyethon; the list goes on.
  • The Ohio State Marching Band has mentored members of the marching band of the Ohio State School for the Blind. It culminated in the OSSB band joining the Ohio State band in performing Script Ohio with the OSSB band spelling O-h-i-o in braille.

What Does All This Mean for Associations & Nonprofits?

  1. Don’t abandon traditions but don’t let traditions stifle innovation.
  2. Recognize that systems can enable creativity.
  3. Empower you association professionals to innovate.
  4. Provide mentoring to help new staff.
  5. Encourage servant leadership.
  6. Engage your members and “alumni.”
  7. Embark on community service and/or cause marketing.
  8. Cultivate a culture of traditions, innovations, systems and success.

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