Dear NGO, You Are in Sales & Marketing

Feb 7, 2017

So you work for an NGO?Then you are in sales and marketing. Everything you do, like it or not, will draw people toward you or away, and at some time, if you want to survive, you will have to make a sale.

OK, so you don’t like the word “sales” because it is so laden with the idea of the traditional or worse, unscrupulous sales. But like it or not, the most important part of your work is to be able to close a sale. 

 

You are not selling widgets, true. You have an even tougher job: selling ideas, change, hopes and successes often not yet realized. Now with the professional world of non-profits and service organizations increasingly less segmented between the provider and the development staff. We are all involved in getting others to commit their resources to our organization. Today, perhaps the most important part of our job has to do with getting people to take action, to close the sale, to put their money into your organization.

Everyone trying to persuade anyone of anything—even to part with your most valuable resource to learn something (your time) is selling. Nothing is free. It will at least cost you time.

When you want someone to change their behavior, even a little and so give you money, or take the time to understand what your organization does, you are selling. It may be a very soft sell when you provide information, but you still have to sell them on its worth.

Then when you or I want anyone to change—the people you serve, your donors, governments, partner organizations, allies or your family, then you are selling. When we want bigger changes to take place, it is our responsibility to provide bigger reasons and more clear understanding of the costs of not taking you up on what you provide. You’re in sales. I’m in sales. And it’s not sleazy or slimy. It’s about educating and it’s about providing expert solutions.

Funds—One Measure of Your Impact

You are already well aware that NGOs have to juggle multiple relationships and not just the simple seller-buyer transaction of traditional business. NGOs have their donors, their beneficiaries and their teams to lead and manage. And sooner or later, many realize they also have a fourth as they realize there are policies to impact. So their areas of influence need to expand even further. So right there, you have at least four different stakeholders in your venture—the three more obvious ones you already engage and those involved in policy development.

Have you developed ways to measure all the other impact as well? It may not be as simple as measuring your bank account, but it is still good to track the ways in which you do impact each of your stakeholders. This will help them and you, better understand your value to them and the larger community.

Multiply Your Impact

That being said, at every level, your organization’s success will depend upon your and your team’s capacity to sell your ideas and persuade people of value. Your team is already out there, what if they were each more skilled in selling your organization and its work? What if they could improve 10%, 20% or more?

Sure, funds are one of the easiest measures of success to recognize along with membership numbers, if you are a member organization. But these are by NO means the only critical measure. How do you measure the impact on your team, your donors and the larger policy community? You probably strive for great metrics on your beneficiaries but do consider looking for ways to measure your impact on all you deal with. We are, after all, all in the persuasion business.

So another overlooked yet strategic focus for NGOs is to build the capacity of your team’s impact and influence. Are there skills you could hone or insights that could utilize so you and your team can double your impact? How could you better leverage your current resources if you were to upgrade their ability to sell?

Solve and Serve

Don’t be afraid to read many a book on sales and marketing and adapt what you find there to your work and situation. No matter who you are in the organization, each one will be working to enlighten and secure commitments on what it is they are doing for the goals of the organization. For NGOs. I also think of their ability to sell as the capacity to “solve and serve.” NGOs are, after all, in the business of solving key problems and providing the services that resolve those issues. That is the big picture work, and then there is the day to day work where each of use in our places, work to sell and market, or solve and serve:

· Executive Directors have to consinuously sell evolving organizational vision to their boards.

· Fundraisers sell their “big why” as well as capacity to provide to donors and foundations.

· Program coordinators pitch new program ideas to their ED and new value propositions to their event sponsors.

· Every NGO employee and volunteer has to demonstrate his/her value to the organization–selling the value of their contributions that warrants the precious resources spent on them rather than someone else.

· Social Media Directors need to understand the different stakeholders and how each prefer to communicate as well as their specific intellectual and emotional needs.

No one is exempt from selling and Daniel Pink underscored this in his book, “To Sell Is Human.”

Without good salesmanship, nonprofit professionals will be limited in their capacity to provide and implement great solutions.

3 Steps to Great Sales

1.  Clarity

This is easy to note, not difficult to understand, but often in a community of people, hard to realize. The crystallization of your goals and your work—differentiated by team, time and phase. When you’re ready to persuade donors to support your vision, you had better cultivate a deep understanding of who your constituents are, what motivates them and what beliefs they hold. All the while keeping perspective on your goals and what it will take to get you there.

2.  Resilience

You will not have the answer for every problem for everyone at all times. So get ready to be set aside as irrelevant to some people and some groups at some times. Your work won’t be a perfect fit—even when theoretically that may be true. Sometimes, the timing is simply wrong. Your capacity to bounce back, to see beyond the moment and work for the longer term is essential. All the while, continuously improving your and your team’s skills and capacities.

3.  A Mile in their Moccasins

Yes, walking a mile in another’s moccasins are the steps here. Remembering that walking that mile is all about feeling, direction, and perspective. Being able to walk in the shoes of the person you are communicating with is essential. Being aware of their biggest pain points and circumstances will go a long way to informing you how best to approach them so that you are addressing them not only from a rational perspective, but so you are attuned to their subconscious or unarticulated emotional states driven by the many factors they face in their daily lives.

For example, if you met the Ambassador of the US to the UN on the street and they were going back to their Mission from a meeting where they were talking about the Middle East and even though your NGO has critical knowledge of cybersecurity issues that relate to China, the chances of striking up a useful exchange at that moment is limited. At best you would have to show how what you have to share is immediately relevant to that ME issue. This is just to say that understanding the mindset of the person(s) or organizations you are pursuing is essential if you are to bring a relationship to one of engagement beyond information-sharing.

For example, if you met the Ambassador of the US to the UN on the street and they were going back to their Mission from a meeting where they were talking about the Middle East and even though your NGO has critical knowledge of cybersecurity issues with China, that chances of striking up a great exchange at that moment is limited. Unless you could show how what you have to address also pertains immediately to that ME issue. This is just to say that understanding the mindset of the person(s) or organizations you are pursuing is essential if you are to bring a relationship to one of engagement beyond information-sharing.

For example, if you met the Ambassador of the US to the UN on the street and they were going back to their Mission from a meeting where they were talking about the Middle East and even though your NGO has critical knowledge of cybersecurity issues with China, that chances of striking up a great exchange at that moment is limited. Unless you could show how what you have to address also pertains immediately to that ME issue. This is just to say that understanding the mindset, the direction they are currently heading and the emotional levels of concern of the person(s) or organizations you are pursuing is essential if you are to effectively bring a relationship to levels beyond information-sharing.

You are in sales. You are a change leader, so get used to selling ideas, to finding ways to make what you have attractive to the “buyer.” Unless of course, you just want a picture!

 

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