Approaching Not-For-Profits – Part 2: Landing The Job


It takes a certain kind of approach to successfully conduct business with not-for-profit organizations. Last time, we examined the "soul" of what non-profits are all about, how they think, and how they set their goals. Now let’s look at some specific ways that a freelance Web developer can attain success with these organizations.

The Winning Pitch

Most of the organizations I’ve dealt with could not care less how technologically advanced they are. The "latest thing" is not their concern, and they don’t have the money to throw away on being "cutting edge". There are exceptions, of course. But generally, tight budget restrictions do not allow for a lot of "infrastructure" in the area of technology.

Most publicly-funded educational facilities provide state-of-the-art computer labs for students to use, but this has only been a recent trend in the past 5 years. Before then (and even up to the present in some schools), computer labs consisted of dilapidated old patchwork systems, which were provided by donors, and which barely ran.

So it’s important to realize that unless you can appeal to the mission of the organization, and demonstrate how you and your technology can make their work easier, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree.

Consider this scenario: a not-for-profit Christian ministry runs a training center where students are given "street ministry" training. Over a period of time they’ve seen a fall in donations, and an increase in attendance at the training center. Their main office is working from an old DB2 DOS-based database that has limited flexibility, and they realize that they’re struggling to keep the antique beast alive.

They can’t afford to buy a modern database system to run their day-to-day operations, yet they find themselves becoming increasingly dependent on their old, inflexible system. In a board meeting, it is decided that further funding has to be diverted away from office expenses (where all the computer-related items are lumped) to accommodate the increase in enrolment.

You are called upon to give a proposal. After looking at the options, you recommend the use of a MySQL database running through a Web portal. Your suggestion to use freely available software means that the organization can afford to divert more of its funds into the training aspect of the school — which is, after all, their primary focus. And when given this option, the Board of Directors would be eager to jump on board. They might not have been so keen if you’d provided a commercial alternative simply because it allowed more simultaneous users, was more capable of carrying a load, or had other technological benefits that, while "nice-to-have", didn’t provide any direct benefits to the organization.

The moral of the story? Ensure that your sales pitch meets the client’s needs — those that are technologically obvious, as well as those that, though they may appear to be unrelated, still have a strong impact on the project’s end result. The key here, obviously, is research — get to know the client organization, and the constraints under which they’re working, well, and you’ll have a much greater chance of making a successful pitch.

Networking – Your Greatest Ally

Encouraging your clients to work for you is a necessary task for any small business. In the not-for-profit industry, it’s absolutely critical. Organizations in the not-for-profit arena network closely with each other, sharing information and vendors along the way. If you please a client, they will be your biggest asset for years. Make them angry, and you may well ruin your chances of success among other non-profits in that geographical area, or in that social circle. This is the nature of viral marketing: what you do right here, right now, will have a ripple effect on all the other potential deals you may have in the future.

One successful technique I’ve employed has been a cash-back option. Each of my clients who refers a new client to me (i.e. one who actually signs a contract), receives a check for 5% of the to sale. In this way, clients can earn money back — it encourages them to talk to others, and has proven financially advantageous for them, as well as for me.

Not-for-Profit Marketing Mistakes

One of the first things I did in trying to generate business was to compile a list of not-for-profit organizations with which I’d had any kind of connection — no matter how remote. Next, I put together a list of email addresses of contacts within each organization. Perhaps my email campaign would have enjoyed more success if I’d read Georgina’s "Hot Headline How To", but alas, I received several hate emails in reply to my messages, and never did acquire any business.

I also recommend against cold calling. This practice is, in essence, a "dart board method". It usually entails opening up a local phone directory, finding random not-for-profit organizations, and making "courtesy calls". I have found it to be a haphazard approach that is rarely successful. Again, the importance of knowing the organization you’re targeting is key — and neither of these methods requires you to know anything about the client, which is why they’re so unsuccessful.

Tapping Into The Market

Look around yourself: not-for-profit organizations are everywhere. There are churches and hospitals and education facilities all over the place, to name only a few of the many types of organizations that can operate in this industry. There are also many sites and tools on the Internet that can give you a head start to finding potential clients in the not-for-profit space. Here are a few:

The Keys to Success

These are just a handful of methods I have personally used to reach not-for-profit organizations. Communication is critical: you have to make them see the purpose of having the work done. If the project doesn’t complement their mission, it will be an extremely tough sell.

The freelancer also has to work within the prospect organization’s financial means. These are not large corporations that have billion dollar budgets with CEOs who drive Jaguar convertibles. Yet they do extremely important work within our society and provide the freelance Web developer with considerable opportunities — be empathetic to the organization’s circumstances, and you may well be surprised at the response form them — and their peers in the industry.

Next time, we’ll look at a real life example of business with a not-for-profit. See you then!