Game of Thrones and Nonprofit Fundraising; Engaging Comparisons

The widely acclaimed book series and most popular television show in the world speaks to a diverse fan base

with intriguing stories of conflict, honor, and yes, fantasy. When I watch the players angling for power, purpose, or even basic survival, I can’t help but apply many of the premises to today’s nonprofit fundraising landscape. 

Nonpnrofit fundraising is not for the faint of heart. There is tremendous competition for donor dollars, replete with great victories, mobilizing forces, unexpected events, and even

casualties. There are some perennial billion dollar nonprofits, which seem to dictate the game for most others in the field, akin to the Lannister code. There are fundraising dynasties – think along the lines of $40 Billion + endowments – that have great lineage, history, and are a breathtaking spectacle to behold, like Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons. And of course we have the Starks of the nonprofit world, the dedicated loyalists who we can always count on to operate with honor and integrity, in spite of less scrupulous actors around them.

But I think my favorite analogies are the less obvious ones that nonetheless are reflected in the nonprofit world, such as:

House Baratheon. This great house gained its royal status through rebellion, rallying wide support to fight against a perceived injustice, ultimately enjoying a reign of more than a decade. However, as adeptly portrayed in the HBO series, King Robert is much less effective as a royal leader than as a warrior in battle. He distances himself from decision-making, preferring to delegate to the small council without much oversight particularly in the area of finance, where the crown is heading toward bankruptcy. At one time his great house seemed destined for generations of greatness, but ultimately dissipates into oblivion.

Nonprofit comparison: Invisible Children. Invisible Children was founded in 2004, to end Africa’s longest running conflict led by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The organization grew from a viral video into a nonprofit powerhouse of more than $20 Million annually, fueled by support to end injustice. However, after prominent media features reported on restructuring and cessation, the organization has demonstrated 7 and 8 figure operating losses since 2013, seeing assets decline from more than $17 million to less than $900K. Key lesson: always have a governing strategy and a fundraising battle plan.

The Iron Bank of Braavos. We don’t see it spotlighted much throughout the series, with only a handful of actual appearances in the 7 seasons, yet it is frequently referenced and is an underlying prerequisite to any successful reign. Arguably, it is the most powerful financial institution in the Known World, with the ability to selectively apply its support to causes it believes will be the most successful or beneficial to its own existence. 

Nonprofit Comparison: Fidelity Charitable. When most people are asked to name the organizations that raise the most money, it’s a fun competition of the obvious players: United Way, Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Harvard University. However, flying under the radar is empirically the most lucrative charity that raises the most from private donations: Fidelity Charitable. What’s even more remarkable is that in only 25 years of existence, it’s skyrocketed to the top, and is designed to hold billions of dollars in donor advised funds, it is on pace to surpass the Gates Foundation as the nation’s most prolific grant maker, and thus holds the key to the financial success of myriad nonprofits large and small alike.

The Night’s Watch. The Night's Watch is an organization of soldiers on Westeros that protect the Wall, making sure threats from the North do not breach its boundaries. The Wall is vast but also symbolic, and those who join this order are a hodgepodge from all walks of life, but who are bonded together in brotherhood and who come to take their vows with the utmost dedication.

Nonprofit Comparison: The millions of organizations operating on a sub $500K annual budget. Nobody is getting rich at these agencies, with the best employees performing a labor of love. Moreover, the limited budget often means there are no frills – the members, and the larger cause, have to find ways to do more with less. The odds often seem insurmountable, but with support and a lot of faith, these organizations do tremendous deeds that often go unnoticed by the general public. 

Game of Thrones has provided a lot of twists and turns, just as most fundraisers will experience if they stick it out long enough. Learn how to plan, negotiate, and navigate the wars to come to maximize your standing.

About Perry Jowsey

Perry Jowsey, CFRE is a professional fundraiser and featured speaker who has been leading financial turnarounds for more than a decade, 

where he has generated more than $20 million in Jowsey_Headshot-1-1.jpgrevenue specializing in small and financially distressed budgets. Perry has worked with local and international media, foreign government delegations, and philanthropists on the Forbes 400. In unparalleled acts of fundraising success, he has cut costs while producing ROI’s as large as 4000%, leading to features in national trade publications and special invitations to present to groups around the United States. Here is the link to Perry's LinkedIn profile