Olympic Spirit in the Nonprofit Sector

sochi2014Once again, Canada, along with the rest of the world, has been swept up in the Olympic Games. For spectators, the Games have taken over our televisions and pervaded our conversations. For Sochi, the Olympic excitement started years ago, with many countries bidding for the 2014 Winter Games in hopes that they would become the chosen venue. Similarly, the participating athletes have trained for years, often since they were children, with their eyes on the prize of becoming Olympians.

All this, despite the fact that hosting the Games comes with a huge price tag and a history of poor economic return. Participating as an athlete also offers little financial benefit, especially given the time and dedication required to qualify.

Without profit as the main driving force of the Games, the spirit of the Olympics in many ways feels similar to the spirit of the nonprofit sector.

In both, the moment is paramount. A single soup kitchen may be unable to solve world hunger, or even break the cycle of poverty for its clients, but there is some inherent value in feeding one hungry person one healthy meal. Similarly, standing on the top of the podium or hosting the Olympics may be a once in a lifetime experience, but it is worth it just for that moment. In both cases, that one moment becomes part of something bigger. And that moment is about community building.

Feeling joy in the success of strangers with whom we share only a loose connection is a familiar feeling in the nonprofit sector. We want our communities to thrive and our neighbours to have a good quality of life. We truly believe that each individual win is a win for us all. Similarly, we are elated when Canadians we have never met reach the podium, achieving a lifelong goal. We are also thrilled when the underdogs of our global community pull through on the world stage (after all, the Jamaican bobsled team has fans far beyond its country’s borders).

Although the definition of success for an Olympic athlete looks very different from that of a nonprofit, both strive to be better each time out. No athlete sets a record and expects that it will never be broken, and no nonprofit believes the sector’s work ends with the completion of their own current project. The shared spirit of our sector and of the Games is a deeply human one: permanent aspiration. And while we may run into challenges along the way to achieving our goals, the promise of a better future will continue to bring us together one win, one moment at a time.

Sam Kriviak, Program Coordinator