Articles written by Lenann McGookey Gardner are available for print and online publication. To request usage permission, contact 505.828.1788 or email Lenann@YouCanSell.com
Must Nonprofits Be Involved in SELLING?
Many nonprofits and values-based organizations face challenges – too few volunteers, small donations, budget shortfalls. Is the answer to the problem that such organizations must get better at selling?
No one in the not-for-profit community, in my experience, wants to think of themselves as a salesman. The image of conniving, manipulation, pushiness – all these are incompatible with the principles on which such organizations were founded.
Is there a middle ground? Does an organization have to get aggressive about salesmanship in order to survive?
The answer is NO. But the approach taken to becoming better at outreach – to volunteers and donors and others who may participate in creating the future you envision for your organization – must be carefully thought through and implemented sensitively.
The good news is that the best selling, today, is done in a way that is deeply respectful of the “buyer.” This has come about because people’s tolerance for disrespect has declined dramatically, but it’s an appropriate development. No one wants to be “sold” – but people “buy” things all the time!
So the challenge, often, is to make the “buyer” – that is, the potential participant, volunteer or donor—aware of the opportunity you represent, so they can decide whether they would like to take advantage of this opportunity.
Be careful about assuming that such people already understand the opportunity you offer. Your organization may have been around for decades, but if people are not involved with you now, the chance that they fully appreciate the opportunity your organization represents to them personally is slim.
Look at your messages – do you have short, powerful, provocatively-expressed ideas that will create interest where none now exists? Developing such ideas is a process called Positioning, and it’s crucial that you do it.
Once you have your Positioning messages, it’s time to get those messages out to people whom you would like to attract. You may be buying advertising or supporting a website, but don’t assume that those things are being read.
The best vehicle to share your messages is a human being. So you’ll need to have people who are able to go out and share those powerful messages, build relationships, and handle conversations in such a way that maximizes the likelihood that appropriate people choose to become involved.
The skills to do that are selling skills, adjusted appropriately to fit the type of organization you represent. These are not the selling skills of the past – nor the depictions of salespeople we see in the movies! The approach to handling such conversations most effectively, today, begins with a Clean Heart Position – a sincere desire to see the other person get where he wants to go.
So to have an effective conversation about engaging with your organization, we begin by trying to understand where the individual with whom we are speaking would like to go. For example, if we’re seeking a person to volunteer, we’d inquire about their interest in being involved in their community. Do they see that as an important part of their life? In what ways are they currently contributing to their community? What kinds of people would they most like to help?
From there we move to how they might help. What are their thoughts about engaging in more community service-type work? Do they want to get involved with other people? Do they want to make a monetary contribution to good work in the community? How do they see themselves participating?
Be prepared to learn that, while most people have some idea that community involvement is a good thing, they lack specific ideas about how to bring such involvement into their lives. And since they perceive themselves to be busy already, they worry that they won’t be able to find the time—so they simply do nothing.
Handled properly, a conversation in which we offer them some structure makes it possible for them to see specifically how they might live their professed commitment to their community.
For example, we might say, “Here’s one kind of job that could be done by a volunteer. This would take some of your time one evening a week, to help boys aged 8 to 11.” Or, “Here’s a type of job that would allow you to use your writing skills to help seniors, submitting an article every month to this publication.” Or, “It sounds as if your schedule is full. At this stage of your life, I wonder if it would make sense to make a financial contribution to this work in our community, and then, as your time frees up, to move toward volunteering, Fred?”
There are several skills for handling this type of conversation, and doing appropriate and timely follow-up on it, that will maximize your effort to attract appropriate people and donations to your organization.
These skills should be based on recent sales research and writings on the subject; we know that how people like to be approached, now, is quite different from the approaches that were effective just a few years ago. Consult an up-to-date selling skills expert for that information, and for help using it – but be sure that individual is deeply appreciative of your organization’s history, goals and values.
Without that, your “selling skills” are likely to feel tacked on and maybe even crass. That’s not a recipe for growth.
Lenann McGookey Gardner, an expert in state-of-the-art selling skills, volunteers as a Stephen Minister and Leader. She served on nonprofit boards for Cuidando Los Ninos and The Harbour School in Maryland. She is a Harvard MBA and winner of NM Business Weekly’s 2010 “Top Performing CEO” award. Her web sites are http://YouCanSell.com and http://YouCanLeadCoaching.com.
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