Six Olympians Show Us What it Takes to Succeed


The Simones. Yusra. Michael. Kohei. Missy.

All amazing stories. All exceptional, fascinating and complex people. Some gold medal winners, others headed home early for a variety of reasons.

What do they all have in common? What can we learn from them, and how do these lessons apply to the critical mission-driven work we do every day?

  1. Persistence. Yusra Mardini fled Syria at age 17, rescuing 20 fellow refugees by keeping their sinking boat afloat in the Mediterranean. Just one year later, she was chosen to represent the Refugee Olympic Team, winning her 100-meter butterfly heat on the first day of the Olympics. In that spirit, here are six tips on persistence:
  2. Overcoming Adversity. Not long ago, swimming phenom Michael Phelps was depressed – even suicidal. He turned to hard partying, was pulled over twice for intoxicated driving, and hit rock bottom. New father to 3-month old Boomer, today Phelps is clean, sober and has a whole new lease on life. Here’s a great article on overcoming adversity:
  3. Grace Under Pressure. Kohel Uchimura has been hailed as the greatest gymnast of all time. So has Simone Biles. Both Simone and Kohei faced significant pressure from challengers in Rio, yet they were able to emerge victorious. Most important, they did it with tremendous warmth and grace. Turns out, there are five ways you can improve your ability to act with grace under pressure:
  4. Going the Extra Mile. In one of the biggest Olympic upsets of all time, Simone Manuel pushed through and defeated the top seeded Australian Campbell sisters, becoming the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in swimming. It was so historically significant that, at the moment it happened, the race announcers were too choked up to speak. Here are key insights on what will motivate your team to go the extra mile:
  5. Putting Team First. Despite the many challenges Missy Franklin has faced in Rio, the only time she broke character and cried on camera was when she failed to make the finals in the 200-meter backstroke. Her tears flowed, telling her teammate Maya DiRado, “I’m so sorry, I can’t believe I let the team down.” With those words, she did just the opposite, showing the world what a dedicated team player – and true Olympian – looks like. Here is one of our favorite pieces on putting team first:


There are myriad Olympic tales of perseverance, overcoming adversity, grace under pressure, going the extra mile, and putting team first. Nine powerful individual stories (including Yusra’s) can be found here:

And just for fun, here’s Simonex2 on the day of their historic victories.

  1. So moving forward, how will you be persistent – engaging your donors, building your development program, empowering your CEO and Board of Directors?
  2. How about overcoming adversity in your organization? Who do you need to partner with – program staff, fellow development staff, board members, your CEO – to move the needle on your fundraising efforts?
  3. Are you modeling grace under pressure? When the heat is turned up at work, are you able to keep your cool with staff, peers, your CEO and your donors?
  4. What have you done lately to go the extra mile with your donors? Will they be ready to give at year-end because you’ve shown them the impact their philanthropic investment has made?
  5. And what have you been doing to put your team first? Are you being a team player?


Like me, you may never be eligible to compete in the Olympics. Just don’t let that stop you from behaving like an Olympian, implementing the five expert practices they employ every day to be successful.

Posted on August 14, 2016 in Maven

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Martha Schumacher

About the Author

Martha H. Schumacher, ACFRE, CFRE, MInstF(AdvDip), is President of Hazen Inc. Hazen partners with nonprofits to provide effective fundraising solutions, with a special emphasis on major gifts and capital campaigns. From time to time, she will share her thoughts on issues that impact mega, principal and major gifts at your organization. Please send us your major gifts thoughts, challenges, questions or insights to @HazenInc or

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