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Monday, June 13, 2011

The Power of "the Dark Side": What Fundraisers Can Learn from Salespeople (and vice versa)

This is a stereotype. It's not Jim.
In spite of the fact that Alice frequently describes Jim as "the older brother I never wanted," we've had a respectable amount of success as a business partnership. Our strategy has been to merge the most powerful traits of the for-profit and nonprofit sectors to increase resources for philanthropic organizations.

So how does, as Jim likes to say, "a cynical salesperson work with a Pollyanna fundraiser for six years without losing his mind?" Here's what we've learned about what translates to philanthropy from "the dark side."

Fundraising AND sales are about relationships.
Fundraisers like to think we have a lock on relationship development. We're "development directors" for that reason! Salespeople? They are focused on making the sale more than the relationship, right? Well, not exactly. Good salespeople aren't focused on the one-time deal: they know that long-term customers are better. Jim shares a story of a major broadcasting executive who once said to him, "This better do everything you said it's going to do. Because it's easy to sell me once, but it's going to be tough to sell me again."

Price is irrelevant; value is everything.
Many fundraisers obsess about how to determine the right ask amount. Salespeople set a price and talk about the value of the purchase. Successful fundraisers do the same--they talk about how communities will be transformed; how lives will be touched; how root cause problems will be solved. This is the value of the philanthropic investment--eventually the amount is less important to the donor.

Present from a position of pride, not poverty.
Many salespeople walk into an interaction with a bit of swagger. (Maybe too much at times!) In contrast, many nonprofit people present a position of neediness. "I know this is a tough economy, and you probably get a lot of requests, but would you consider donating...." Don't do that! Nonprofit organizations change lives, make dreams become reality, improve our communities. You do great stuff! You've earned a little swagger! Be bold!

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Salespeople have a "book of business" that they work in a methodical way. Even though fundraisers have "moves management," very few nonprofits utilize a structured approach to managing donor lists, cultivating new gifts, and researching new prospective contributors. Whether you're in a one person shop or a large development department, you must take time to plan how you're going to approach your "portfolio" of contributors so that you can deepen the relationships.

Not every meeting is an "advance," but your advances should outnumber your "continuances."
One of Jim's pet peeves, both in sales and in fundraising, is the continuance--the meeting or interaction that doesn't lead anywhere. You had a nice lunch, but there wasn't any change in the relationship. Alice calls this "the cultivation vortex:" you spend too much time cultivating and never feel like it's "the right time" to ask. Move forward! Is there an action step, a deliverable, additional information that needs to be provided? Is there a scheduled time for a follow up? Do you know what's happening next? How will your prospective contributor deepen their engagement with your organization?

Having a mission, vision and an ethical code is a valuable asset.
Few for-profit corporations have a mission and vision for how to transform the community. And almost none have a code of ethics and standards of professional practice that they can point to and say, "here's what is important." This is what gives nonprofits the privilege of their tax status and the privilege of community loyalty. For-profit businesses are catching on to this: Toms is one of our favorites. (And they sell cool shoes.)

Trust is critical.
Generally, the culture of nonprofits is to trust people until they prove unworthy. In sales, trust is not easily earned. This is probably the most difficult part for someone migrating from the for-profit world to the nonprofit sector, because philanthropy is fundamentally based on trust: trust that you will do what you said you would do with the money. Trust that you both have the best interests of the relationship at heart. Trust that a fundraiser will put the needs of the organization ahead of personal gain.

On that note, we know that fundraising is not sales. But that does not mean that you don't have to sell. Selling is not only about an exchange for money, but also communication, listening, persuasion, and yes, relationship development. By studying the practices of reputable salespeople, we can "use our powers for good" to benefit of our communities.

This post is an abbreviated summary of our presentation formerly known as "Little Bit Country, Little Bit Rock and Roll," and was posted on the sixth anniversary of Alice and Jim's business relationship. 

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