What relevance do such corporate terms as “customer acquisition cost”, “customer retention metrics”, or “prospect target profile” have for the non-profit world? Too often the answer that my nonprofit clients or prospects give me is “none”, as they want to believe that morality and social vision reside on their side, while corporate values are uniformly lacking To them, the vocabulary of corporate marketing is either irrelevant or inappropriate. They make a sad mistake.

Wikopedia offers us this definition of “marketing”:

Marketing is the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling that product or service. . . . a set of processes for creating, delivering and communicating value to customers. . .

Marketing is the science of choosing target markets through market analysis and market segmentation, as well as understanding consumer behavior and providing superior customer value.

From a societal point of view, marketing is the link between a society’s material requirements and its economic patterns of response. Marketing satisfies these needs and wants through exchange processes and building long term relationships.”

Of course the social service agency, theatre company, or environmental organization are not offering us gift wrapped products. They may provide food and social support to the needy, artistic performance that nourish our soul, protection of our land and water – services that do add value to our lives as individuals and as a society. Their products are services such as this; their “customers” are those of us who might support the endeavor beyond the level of our immediate individual need.

Communicating the value” for a non-profit takes place as they explain how their service benefits a segment of society – which may or may not be the segment that is being asked to contribute funds that support it.

Creating, delivering, and communicating value to customers” is the direct work that they do.

And the “market analysis and segmentation” that non-profits may or may not do is the analysis of who might support the program, how it needs to be packaged and described so that its value is most clearly broadcast, and which sub-communities might best be approached to take on each piece of work.

Marketing has always been a mixture of art and science, but the analytic tools to identify interested communities, and to explore how they respond to different approaches have been steadily growing in power and precision. It’s high time for a new community of non-profit leaders to begin using these technologies, and the related social understanding, to develop a stronger network of support.

But the gap between for-profit and non-profit sectors is about more than different notions of whether both really do “marketing”. There’s too often a cultural divide, based on an implied criticism of corporate organizations as being immoral and out of touch with human values. That’s certainly true of some, but there’s a significant community of for-profit groups that are wholesome in every way. There are also plenty of people within the corporate world who are not comfortable with all aspects of their employer’s behavior, but are challenged how best to confront it with a modicum of safety.

We need more programs like United Way’s “shared corporate executive” program that brings skilled executives into their non-profit to share specific organizational and technical skills. These executives can then return to their employer with a new confidence about how any corporate organization can adopt strong values, and can become an affirming community in which differences are an opportunity.

Once the stereotypes have begun to fade, we may all be better able to look at the tools of marketing as tools of helpful social intervention, via which useful products and services get defined, designed, and funded . . . and the world becomes a better place.

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“Hurry up and finish speaking, so I can tell you why you’re wrong!”

Have you ever found yourself thinking such a thought, instead of really trying to grasp what truth might be said?  Of course, such impatient waiting is not true listening, and rarely serves us well.  It leaves us poised for a fight, rather than ready for insight, understanding, and growth.

Listening is a critical skill in all of our lives.  In business we’re concerned with management, supervision, marketing, sales — all tasks involving relationships.  We need to listen to employees, managers,  customers and potential customers, suppliers, stockholders, neighbors — all those who are impacted by our policies and operations.

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What makes a great story?

September 7, 2012

Deb Nelson and I have been teaching a Skillbuilder (workshop) for the Maine Association of Nonprofits entitled “Finding and telling our stories:  Bringing our mission and method to life”.  It’s about helping people identify stories about their organization that are compelling, illustrative, and can be told in just a few words.

As part of this workshop, we ask participants, “What makes a great story?”.  These are some of the answers that we hope to hear (and we usually do):

  • The story has a compelling narrative
  • It’s not obvious (e.g. you must keep listening)
  • It’s accurate, true, really happened
  • It can be told with authenticity and authority
  • The imagery is vivid.
  • It’s culturally relevant for the audience
  • It fulfills the right goals for its audience
  • It has a real beginning, middle, and end
  • It’s suitably short

These are the kinds of stories that we want to tell in describing the work of our organizations — whether in fundraising for a non-profit, marketing a commercial service, or offering an innovative product.  Compelling true short stories draw people in, create interest, and communicate most effectively.

Any consultant wanting to hone his or her skills should read this recent article by Bernard Ross and Sudeshna Mukherjee in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Here are the ten points they list:  (For a detailed explanation, read the article!)

Following this list, I’ve added eight more that I believe are at least as important.

* Have self-confidence and be as adept at delivering bad news as good.

* Have a good understanding of the business and of themselves.

* Have transferable skills.

* Have the ability to simplify and explain a problem.

* Have more than one solution to a problem.

* Be a good listener.

* Be a team player.

* Be able to market.

* Gain client trust.

* Remember who’s the star.

And while I agree strongly with all of these, there are more traits that I believe are equally important:

* Be comfortable telling the truth.  Clients may just want to hear positive words, expressions of praise.  A great consultant is willing to say what needs to be said.

* Be tactful and affirming.  Truthtelling doesn’t need to be negative and abrasive.  A great consultant can phrase criticism as helpful suggestions, and can lead the client toward constructive action.

* Know how to ask great questions.  Great consultants ask great questions.  It’s through such questions that we learn what’s really going on, what the client thinks is going on, and what different groups within the client organization think is going on.

* Be willing to play together.  You can learn only so much sitting at the conference table.  Spending some quality time with the client outside of the office environment is important as well.  A great consultant can engage the client in different venues, and, by so doing, learn much ore about motivations, hopes, fears, etc.

* Have lots of integrity.  Confidences need to be respected.  Promises need to be kept.  A great consultant only makes promises that he or she can and will keep.

* Admit mistakes.  Great consultants aren’t always right.  What’s important is that they take responsibility for the advice they offer, and are willing to acknowledge when it proves to be “off” in any way.

* Love simplicity.  Even when Business and organization problems seem quite complex, some simple models will help clients understand.  A great consultant and report and prescribe in very simple terms, but will still be ready to address the added complexity that may be part of a full understanding.

* Enjoy the work.  Great consultants have fun.  Working with clients can be like playing in a sandbox, and helping clients solve their own problems can be like building those sand castles most of used used to create as children.  Clients will catch on — that it’s fund to learn, to develop new understanding, to think up new possible solutions, to test ideas, and to work together in a collaborative environment.