Non-Profit Doesn’t Mean No Money

John Tabita

I talk a lot about providing value and a return on investment for your clients. This works well for commercial ventures and small businesses whose primary objective is to generate revenue and turn a profit. But what about charitable organizations? How do you sell to them?

Make no mistake: non-profit doesn’t mean no money. Sure, budgets have been slashed and charitable donations are down because of the economy. But unless you are intentionally looking to provide some pro-bono work, or you feel very strongly about the cause, don’t get bamboozled into providing free services for this poor ol’ charity that doesn’t have any money to spend.

How will you know this is happening? Have you ever been on a job interview where the interviewer starts selling you on the position? (One even tried to make me feel like an unambitious loser if I passed up this “opportunity.”) As someone wiser than me once advised, pay close attention to your instincts—if the hair on the back of your neck is standing up, there’s probably a good reason. Here’s one hair-raising tale: We once pitched a website to a woman running for political office. Most campaigns get contributions to pay for things like advertising and marketing, but apparently this was not so in her case … because she spent the entire meeting talking politics and gauging our political views to sell us on the idea of building her site as campaign volunteers. We passed.

It’s Still about Value

Regardless of whether it’s a business or charity, the concept of value still applies. If you can provide a solution that helps a charitable organization accomplish its mission, you are providing value. Since the objective is based on mission rather than revenue, you want to focus on Return on Mission (ROM), not Return on Investment (ROI). Find out what their primary mission is and show them how you can help them accomplish it. ROM isn’t about money, but with some charities, bringing in donations is an important function of their operations. One thing you can point out to them is, if they are successful at fulfilling their mission, it raises their visibility which causes donations to increase, allowing them to continue or expand their efforts.

Charities depend on donations to fund their efforts, but churches rely on its members “tithing”—that is, giving a portion of their income. The majority of authentic ministers and pastors, however, are not in it for the money. Not that money isn’t necessary to fulfill their mission; but to suggest that a website will build their congregation and bring in more money may not be the best approach. Instead, find out what they feel called to do. This may vary from church to church. One may feel called to help the homeless. Another, to help unwed mothers. Larger churches may have ministries that do several things. The key lies in asking probing questions, then demonstrating how your services can provide a return—not on investment, but on mission.

Offering Social Media Marketing Services

Social media has proven to be very effective for raising awareness about causes—a fact not lost on these types of organizations. I wrote about partnering with a SEO expert to sell SEO services. Likewise, consider partnering with a social media expert when targeting non-profits. Clients don’t want to have to go to different vendors. If you can provide a one-stop-shop solution, you have a greater chance of getting hired.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Dealing with Non-Profits

It’s not uncommon, especially in churches, for a non-techie volunteer to have built their first website. Once the church grows to the point of being able to afford profession help, “firing” the volunteer who worked so hard getting the site up is a minefield waiting for you to step into. We once bid on a project to redesign one of the sites for a mega-church here in the States. We thought we did the right things; my partner was a long-standing member and we had the inside track. But, ultimately, the reason we lost the project was the church’s reluctance to take the website away from the volunteer who’d been maintaining and updating it for so long. It’s unfortunate when the good of the many gets sacrificed for a single person, but it happens. Sometimes, just asking a poignant question, such as, “Is there anything lurking behind the scenes that would prevent this project from moving forward?” will bring such issues to light. The beauty of such a question is that it often elicits a response like, “What do you mean?”—which opens the door for you to elaborate:

“Well, Joe, I’ve known charities that decided to keep their old website just because they didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the volunteer who had built and maintained the site before they had the funds for a professional one. Is there anything like that going on here?”

How about you? What are your experiences with charities and non-profits? Do you avoid them like the plague, or have you found them to be a profitable niche? Post your comments below.

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