Hey Nonprofit Leaders, You’re in Marketing and Sales

By Michael Barnes

In a previous incarnation, I was a business coach. I taught for-profit businesses how to grow, expand, and improve. During this time, I spoke to a number of nonprofits and noticed that they had many of the same problems experienced by for-profit companies.

One topic that quickly became apparent is that nonprofit leaders are in marketing and sales, even though they will deny this ‘til the cows come home. These leaders will explain that they are raising money for their cause, not to make a profit. Often, they get angry when I tell them they are in marketing and sales as they feel they are “morally superior” to salespeople in those dirty for-profit companies who are just looking to make a buck!

I’m not getting into the morality debate. I will, however, repeat that nonprofit leaders and fundraisers are in the marketing and sales game.

Marketing is at its most basic, getting the word out about your product, service or cause. How do you let people know you exist? If they don’t know you exist, you have no chance to get a transaction (purchase or donation) from them.

Sales is getting the cash! You might trade them a product or service, or you may give them the good feeling of helping the world. Regardless, in some manner you have to “close the deal” and get them to open their wallets.

I was recently watching “The State of Modern Philanthropy 2019; Trends in Return Donor Behavior” by Classy. Their conclusions were no surprise to someone with a marketing or sales background.

I won’t bore you with an analysis of every data point, however, I believe a few examples are illustrative and will make the point.

Meet people where they are:  People who donate on a specific platform (desktop vs mobile) are most likely to donate again on the same platform. This is not surprising, and it’s great to have the data. People who are comfortable on phones will use phones in the future.  Those comfortable with desktops will continue to use desktops.

What do you know about the demographics and psychographics of your donor populations?  What can you do to reach out to these different donor populations?

People give to a certain campaign type: 90% of people who first donate on a donation page give to that type of campaign again. 90% of peer-to-peer donors return to that campaign type. People are creatures of habit.

Once you understand what someone’s habit is, do you send them confusing messages about other campaign types, or do you provide tailored invitations for them?

Return donors are more likely to become recurring donors: In business coaching, there is a concept called “Ladder of Loyalty.” Basically, once someone buys from you 2 times, they are 7x more likely to return for a 3rd time. This is the same with donors. It is easy to get someone to donate 1 time. It is a significant hurdle to get them to donate a 2nd time, but once you get the 2nd donation, getting more donations is significantly easier.

Raving Fans: The top rung of the ladder of loyalty is “Raving Fans.” These people shout your praises and bring you more referrals and customers. The Classy piece had a category called “Fundraisers.” However, they didn’t specify if these are professional fundraisers or simply supporters. From the data, I suspect these are supporters. These are the “Raving Fans,” the people out there doing your work for you because of their passion for your cause. Check out the video about the ladder of loyalty (Brad Sugars, Founder of ActionCOACH) and see what you can do to move more of your supporters to this level!

Hopefully this commentary will provide actionable insights for nonprofit leaders and fundraisers. Take the knowledge and skills available in the marketing and sales arenas and figure out how you can implement them for your fundraising purposes. Find the right professionals to help you raise the money you need for your cause, your budget will swell, and you will make significantly greater impact for your cause!

In conclusion, consider that everything in life is marketing and sales:

  • Want a date? You need her (or him) to know you exist (BIG HURDLE!) and then say “yes” to the date.
  • Want a job? Your resume is your marketing material and you’re looking for the sale of the offer.
  • Want to hire someone? Your job posting is your marketing material looking to bring in the right prospects and then get them accept your offer (sale).
  • Want your kids to do their chores? How do you convince them to do it and then get them to actually do it?
  • Want donors? How do you let them know you exist then open their wallets?

Just because you’re in a nonprofit doesn’t mean you can ignore the vast knowledge and skills available about marketing and sales. What skills can you add to your repertoire to help fund your mission?

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