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5 Game-Changing Marketing Lessons to Learn From Charities

I truly admire people who are working with charities. They’re passionate, they follow their hearts, and they are making the world a better place. I have the honor of introducing you to Ruth. She’s an amazing person and a very gifted writer. Please visit her website (see the bio at the bottom of the post), I know that you’re going to enjoy her work.

This is her guest post.

I worked in the non-profit sector, primarily in fundraising, for 15 years. And I realized pretty quickly that fundraising is no different than sales. You’re ‘selling’ a cause; you are trying to invest prospects in your organization and your marketing strategy is intended to convince them that they should direct dollars your way.

Sales, right?

I no longer work in fundraising, but I continue to sit on the Board (as a volunteer) of one particular charity, and I am amazed at the marketing genius of this little organization. This is a very small charity that serves fewer than 70 children, all of whom have profound special needs. Furthermore, this is a ‘religious’ organization, so we’re talking about a pretty obscure and fringe target market.

And somehow, this organization raises more than $3 million annually. THREE MILLION DOLLARS! Making this achievement even more impressive is the fact that none of the families of the children served are at all wealthy. In fact, they are almost all subsidized. Most of the donors to this organization have nothing whatsoever to do with the cause, the charity, or the families that are served.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what this organization does right, and what businesses stand to learn from its marketing example. So, how exactly does this little charity raise $3 million each and every year, and what can we learn from its strategy?

Solve a problem that nobody else is solving

If this charity didn’t exist – these children would have nowhere to go. Perhaps it’s not quite that black and white, but it’s a pretty fair representation of the gap in service that is being filled. In business, you want to be clear about the problem you are solving, position yourself as the ‘expert’ in your market, and make the case that unless people buy your product/service, it’s unlikely the problem will be solved to their satisfaction.

Nurture your prospects

Fundraising requires long-term donor cultivation. Rarely can you expect a substantial donation from a direct mail appeal or an isolated solicitation. Similarly, with sales, you need to have a strategy that builds trust and investment over the longer term. Only when your customers really feel connected and invested will they likely make a purchase.

Make it personal

This charity is not shy about sharing the personal stories of the kids who have benefited from their services. I sit on the Board because my daughter is one of those kids, and I’ve pimped her out several times to pull at the heartstrings of prospective donors. It sounds crass, but emotions sell; and to the extent that you can personalize those emotions, even more so. It’s no different in business. If you can demonstrate to your prospective buyers, in an intimate and personal way, that product or service has transformed someone’s life – that’s a golden marketing opportunity. Take advantage of those opportunities and share personal stories.

Table the ask

The number one reason that people cite for not having given to a charity is…they weren’t asked. It’s not that they couldn’t afford it, or they didn’t believe in the charity, or they disapproved of something. It’s that they were never asked. If you don’t table the ‘ask’, you’ve missed the opportunity altogether. Similarly, in business, you have to be crystal clear about your call to action. Do you want your prospective client to sign up for something? Do you want them to make a purchase? Do you want them to participate in a survey? Whatever your goal, state it – loud and clear.

Know your market

Savvy fundraisers spend a lot of time researching their donor prospects. They find out what other charities they support; they learn about their financial circumstances and their personal interests and priorities; they speak to their friends and they plan the ‘ask’ accordingly. In business, you have to understand the challenges and interests of your target market so that you can tailor your sales pitch to meet their needs.

Businesses have much to learn from charities. At the end of the day, charities aren’t selling much more than goodwill. And yet, many of them do it very effectively – in some cases, to the tune of millions of dollars annually. If you’re mindful of these five marketing strategies, chances are, your business will benefit dramatically.

Ruth Zive blogs about freelance writing; she is Mom to five (plus pooch), ASHTANGA yoga devotee, designer handbag enthusiast, special needs advocate and vegetarian chocoholic.

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