Thursday, July 31, 2014

People Want to Associate With Winners

Back when I was a college public relations director, my boss (the vice president for development) and I had several discussions about the value of winning sports programs to the college or university.

I noted that most well-known colleges got that reputation from the success of their athletic teams. “Take Notre Dame,” I said. “Who would even know this small, Midwestern Catholic college if not for their early and frequent success on the football field.”

“While many have a ‘dumb jock’ stereotype of athletes,” I said, “when asked to think of ‘good colleges,’ many people think of colleges and universities with winning athletic programs.”

My boss wasn’t overly impressed with my position.

At least, not until the small college where we worked had several good years of both football and basketball. The winning attitude spread throughout the college. Enrollment applications soared (when it was shrinking at other small colleges in our area). Donations increased too. News coverage of the college extended beyond sports and included national coverage of some of our academic endeavors.

I thought about this as I read a local story about the spike in admission applications at Florida Golf Coast University after the inspiring success of its “Dunk City” basketball team in the NCAA basketball tournament.  The university saw a 29.4 percent increase in freshman applications, thanks in part to Dunk City's national exposure. In addition to numbers, the academic ability – as measured by ACT and SAT scores – increased too.

So, what does this have to do with associations and nonprofit organizations?


Success breeds success is more than a cliche. People want to belong to winning organizations. If they feel good about the organization and they hear great things about what the organization is doing, they join and donate more often.

Years ago I was part of an awesome association staff that helped build a national association into one recognized as “the model” for its industry. It took several years but success did help grow the organization. Membership doubled. Convention attendance doubled. Annual budgets more than tripled.

Remember, it takes time for your reputation to catch up with you: whether you are going up or down.

One key is to make sure you get caught doing good. Which speaks to the importance of association public relations, media relations and social media.

What do you think?  Feel free to comment at

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