MAD LIBS for Nonprofits

Do you remember the children’s car game, Mad Libs? We want all you social entrepreneurs, you leaders of nonprofits, you do-gooders to play. Fill in the blanks in the essay below.  Be serious but have some fun. And, no fighting in the back seat!


Let’s call this essay, “The Challenges We Live For!”


I __________ [emotional verb] the work I do.


My nonprofit is out there every day helping _________________ [a noun, whom your helping]


Of course, our work is not without its frustrations and challenges. In fact, if I were to pick a pop tune that best describes the bumps and detours we must sometimes take, I would _______________________________________ [choose a Golden Oldie or a Top-of-the-Charts tune].


When I first told my friends, parents, or family I was about to enter the nonprofit world, they said [choose your most memorable exclamation, exhortation, or expletive], “__________________________________________________________________________ !!!”


There are lots of reasons we should NOT exist today, lots of “head winds” that constantly push against us, making progress difficult; they include [list a few short phrases] _____________________________, ______________________________, ________________________________, ____________________________.


Now, I know we are not alone in helping others.  I believe, there are at least _____ [enter a number] of other nonprofits offering the same or similar services.

Our most formidable competitor is [list name here] _______________________________________.


What makes this rival so competitive and so tough, is [list its strengths]:  _____________________________________________________, ___________________________________________, and _____________________________________.



How do we respond to this rival’s actions in our space, you ask? I’d say we [pick a speed: act with lightning speed, take our time, or go very slow almost to the point of inaction] _____________________________.


Off the top of my head (No cheating or peeking at their website!), I would say our chief rival’s mission is to: [write its mission in your own words…] ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.


If I had to pick the great competitive lesson our rival has taught us, it is [write a short phrase here:] ___________________________________________________________________________________.


Looking at my Spotify favorites, I’d select this song to describe our rival’s character and attitude [you can be as mean and as biased, or as honest and as truthful as you choose]: _____________________________________________________________________________________


Wait a minute!  What about us? Do we have a strategy?  I’d say the answer is __________________. 


Hmmm…if I said “yes,” or even if I said “no,” I will try to describe our strategy or our approach this way [ write a short statement]:  _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.


Stop!  Please stop, a moment.  Before you feel too satisfied with yourself, answer this final question.

What if a funder, a large foundation, knocked on your door today and said to you, “We want to give you a very large grant, a grant larger than any you have ever received before this moment?” 

“Wonderful,” you say.  “Thank you.”

As the funder reaches for the checkbook, they halt, turn, and challenge you with this statement: “Before we write the check, you have to tell me how your organization is markedly different and better than that of your chief rival, because we can only write one check and it will go either to your rival or to your organization.”

How are your distinctly different from your rival? Can you prove your statement? Remember, if there is no true difference, there is no grant.

Well, you say my organization is different and more effective than my chief rival in the following ways…[fill in this blank]: _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ .


Gee, wasn’t that Mad Libs exercise fun?  Great.  But the real purpose of this game was to make you think about your competition, as well as how funders view you and your cause.

Perhaps next time, I’ll ask you to play a Mad Libs about how to think about your future, about how to scale your organization, and about how to sharpen your brand. There’s no end to the fun we can have.

If you want to think more about your competition, making decisions, and how to differentiate your organization, I recommend you read a few of my strategy favorites, including: Competitive Strategy by Michael E. Porter, Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, and Social Startup Success by Kathleen Kelly Janus. 

We also recommend you review, the “79 Strategic Questions” on our website. It’s a tool we created to help you examine your entire market, including how to spot changing social trends, government policy, as well as your own competition.

If this Mad Libs game has taught you anything, it’s the need for you to catch your breath, step outside your organization, and gain a 360-degree view of the competitive world around you.

Good luck.