Approaching Not-For-Profits – Part 1: Understand the Market

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Churches. Synagogues. Religious Charities. Political Watchdog Groups. Drug Rehab Centers. Advocacy Groups. Community Groups…

In one way or another, we encounter these types of organizations all the time. Their representatives are in subway stations ringing bells at Christmas, or on the streets providing essential care to homeless men and women. They’re providing after-school tutoring or performing community outreach. They’re in Washington lobbying the politicians, or in your local area helping junkies get clean. They have an agenda and are consumed by that agenda’s fulfillment. They are men and women who are all about something — and they’re making a difference.

These are the characteristics of a not-for-profit organization. As a freelancer who’s made these organizations the focus of my business, I’ve come to understand the not-for-profit mindset, and used my industry knowledge to provide my clients with the services they need.

In this three part series, I’ll show you the processes and techniques I used to successfully approach this target group — a virtually untapped market for Web development services. But keep in mind that the tools and information we’ll cover here are relevant to any freelancer who expects to make inroads into a target group of potential clients — whatever the industry. The concepts we’ll discuss here really are applicable across the board.

First, we’ll examine the mindset of these types of organizations. Understanding their basic philosophy will then allow us to explore the key marketing techniques a freelancer might use to reach this target audience. And ultimately we’ll look at a real life example of these concepts in action, when we examine a case study on a client of mine. Ready? Let’s begin.

What is “Not-For-Profit”?

Good question! The answer lies in the definitions of “revenue” and “profit”. Some may simply see this as a matter of semantics, but I can assure you it’s not.

The difference between for-profit and not-for-profit organizations lies in the purpose of the venture and how the money will be used. Every organization requires revenue to operate. The gas and electricity companies will send them bills regardless, and of course, funds are required to execute the mission of any organization.

Non-profit revenue is usually brought in by “supporters” or “donors” and is the building block to accomplish the primary purpose of the organization. This differs from corporate revenue, which represents earnings generated from the sale of services or products. Legislation specifically exists to prevent employees, representatives or others connected with the organization from gaining unreasonable income from the work of the non-profit.

Identifying The Valid Not-For-Profit Venture

According to the Internal Revenue Service, non-profit status “501(c)3” status can be granted to an organization who has incorporated for charitable, religious, educational or scientific purposes. You’ll need to keep this in mind when you approach a non-profit organization about a potential contract: everything they do must be for the furtherance of the purpose of the organization.

Why Not-for-Profits?

There’s a number of reasons why you might choose to perform work for a not-for-profit organization.

For one, the not-for-profit market provides a prime opportunity to build a portfolio. When I was getting started, I built several Websites for local churches for free, and simply asked for advertising space. Most small-medium organizations have no problem with these kinds of arrangements, especially if it means the bottom line can be reduced.

Other reasons to enter this market may include that you can enjoy less competition in this space than in most others, and that you have the satisfaction of knowing that your work is doing more than just lining the pockets of a Board of Directors.

Whatever the case, there is a vast goldmine of opportunities in this untamed wilderness of not-for-profit Web development.

Rewards for Not-for-Profit Work

There is something tremendously gratifying about doing this kind of work. Something inside the human psyche embraces the idea of scientific research to find a cure for cancer, or the thrill of helping a junkie get clean. However, oftentimes the most emotionally, spiritually and mentally rewarding work is the most underfunded.

Keep this in mind when dealing with not-for-profit organizations. There are many rewards, but often, money isn’t one of them. That’s not to say that you can’t make a profit off of a non-profit, or that you have to settle for less than you would if you tageted a different clientele. But your customers will look for evidence that you sympathize with their needs. They’ll want to know that you understand where they’re coming from.

And it follows, then, that the way you handle your business with these clients will communicate a lot about you, and how much you really understand their situation.

The Not-for-Profit Client Profile

As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”. In my experience, most not-for-profit organizations would rather be taught to fish than be given one. And to be successful with this market, you’ll need to be able to appeal to this characteristic.

A non-profit organization likes to consider long term goals. They generally have to work with long run budgets and funding, and invest for the future. And these organizations often take the “safest” road rather than the “aggressive” path. So it’s probable that the client organization will want you to be able to provide them with the means to reduce the ongoing expense of their site in the longer term. This might mean, for instance, that you find yourself providing the client with training — whether in a one-on-one setting, or as a handy presentation on CD.

As a freelancer, one of the scariest concepts is “empowering” your client to do your job. It’s scary because it reduces their dependence upon you — and this translates to business lost …or does it? I’ve found the opposite to be true. By teaching the client the basics, they save money on expensive maintenance as they do it themselves, rather than run to you. This in turn frees up your time, so you can pursue other prospective clients.

Obviously I’m not talking about complicated code here, but simpler, more time consuming things that most developers hate: uploading pictures, for instance, or editing pages through a Content Management System. Empowering your not-for-profit clients this way also creates a “neato”, farm-and-fuzzy feeling in your client, which makes them want to tell others about your services — and which, in turn, generates more business.

Not-For-Profit Online

There are several sites representing not-for-profit organisations that are worth looking at. For an example of an ASP-driven Wwebsite, visit Operation Blessing. Other high profile non-profit sites include:

Lesser known entities with high quality sites include the Cornerstone Church of Johnson City, Tennessee (a site written entirely in PHP and custom classes), Nyumbi Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, and the Ark Trust.

Now, check out Part 2, where we look at the most successful marketing techniques you can use to reach not-for-profit prospects.

View Author

Aaron Brazell is the senior technology manager for b5media, a new media network. He is a well known and respected voice in the world of blogging and social media and has a passion for written communication. He has been developing in PHP for six years and has been actively involved with WordPress for nearly three years. He writes on his blog, Technosailor and is available for WordPress consulting

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