Melinda Gates suggests nonprofits follow 3 of Coca-Cola’s strategies to better serve people

Here’s a juxtaposition. Someone who gained incredible wealth from a ubiquitous software platform is advocating the ubiquitous nature of Coca-Cola to improve the work of nonprofits.
Melinda French Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, gave a TED Talk in October, “What nonprofits can learn from Coca-Cola.” (See link below.)

Melinda Gates

Mrs. Gates dedicated her life to improving living conditions throughout the world through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She has travelled the world and witnessed extreme poverty. But everywhere she goes, there’s Coca-Cola.

Coke is ubiquitous. Clean water, wholesome food and adequate medical care may be nowhere in sight, but you can get a Coke in these far-flung places. If Coke can be produced, delivered, marketed and sold in these third-world nations, she believes nonprofits can help people live better lives there as well. She believes nonprofits must continually learn from innovators throughout the world and develop Coke-like strategies to save lives and make the world a better place to live.

Mrs. Gates earned her undergraduate and MBA from Duke University. With that educational background, she studied Coke and stated how nonprofits should adopt three of Coke’s strategies to improve effectiveness:

  1. Take real-time data and immediately use it to improve.
  2. Tap into local entrepreneurial talent.
  3. Great marketing.

Most successful nonprofits in the United States utilize some of these strategies. But there’s great insight into narrowing the focus to these three elements. Here’s a few thoughts and some elaboration:

  1. Mrs. Gates evaluates the work of many nonprofits that were assisted by the Gates Foundation. She criticizes nonprofits for analyzing data at the end of the project instead of throughout execution. She recalls a description of this type of evaluation as “bowling in the dark.” You roll the ball, hear the pins fall, turn on the lights and then look to see what happened. But real-time data helps “turn on the lights.” The problem with most nonprofits is that they’re so focussed on executing, many directors and boards may think continual evaluation of data might detract from completing the project. Plus, evaluating outcomes will continue to be a weakness of many nonprofits organizations.
  2. Nonprofits need to continually recruit the talented staff, boards and volunteers. They must be allowed to take risks, but too often are punished for failing. Nonprofits can never have too many passionate people who are strategic thinkers and action-oriented leaders.
  3. Marketing in this sense is much more than television commercials. It is every aspect of a nonprofit’s image and brand. Mrs. Gates states that most nonprofits make an incorrect assumption that if someone needs something–vaccinations, clean water or medicine–nonprofits don’t have to make them want it. She talks about how all people seek a “deep happiness.” Nonprofits need to show people how they will find “deep happiness” by receiving assistance from that organization.

So, I’ll be thinking about the three Coca-Cola traits as I write my communications plan for 2011–using Microsoft software.


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