What Non-Profits Can Learn from a Salesperson

In the middle of the recession of 2009, I found myself unable to find a job in sales.  I ceased publication of a local lifestyle magazine that I launched in 2007 due to the cratering of advertising revenue.   With my new found spare time I stumbled across a listing for a Community Account Manager position at a local non-profit.   Being the queen of new business I thought this would be a great opportunity to expand my sales repertoire and contribute to my community.  What I found was a culture that was averse to basic sales principles.   Contrary to the prevalent non-profit attitude, the foundation of fundraising is sales.   Here are three tips that can enhance a nonprofit’s donor base.

In these tough economic times, non-profit fundraisers and development directors are competing for far fewer available resources to meet an unprecedented need.   Many organizations make the same classic sales mistakes such as calling on the same donors every year and not expanding their reach, hiring the same “non-profit” type instead of innovative thinkers with diverse backgrounds, and failure to implement proven sales techniques when soliciting donors.  Saying that you think outside the box is one thing, but actually implementing creative ways to increase donations is another. 

1)      Have a sense of urgency
Non-profit organizations have a reputation of working “slower” than their for-profit counterparts.  The main motivator of sales is to close the deal before your competitor does.  You’ve heard of the mantra, “ABC: Always Be Closing,” this means take advantage of every opportunity.  For example, when you get a lead, follow up immediately.  Believe me most largest donors give to more than one organization per year and due to the economy are downsizing the size of their gifts and the number of recipients.  So stay on their radar.                                                 

2) Stop thinking of sales as being “bad”
Most non-profits view their services as a non-tangible product and therefore don’t view their fundraiser efforts as sales.  However, there is nothing more tangible than feeding a hungry child, educating at-risk teens, or providing refuge for a victim of domestic violence.  You may not be selling DVD players or auto insurance, however the same basic sales principles apply to solicit a gift from a donor: relate to your customer, find the need, meet the need and finally—the ask.

3) Learn to CLOSE
Get over your uncomfortableness of asking for money.  Simply put you have to ask the donor for their gift. 

We all benefit when non-profits do their jobs of distributing money to agencies that help the community. By adopting some simple sales principles they can maximize their base and use relationships to grow lifelong donors.

Nia Gray is currently working as a temporary Community Account Manager for a local non-profit. She is a native Portlander with 8+ years of media sales experience selling television, online, and print advertising, and is one of the owners of Grassroot News a family owned media and video production company. Ms. Gray has launched several projects including renewBEAUTY, a beauty and wellness publication in Portland and Seattle, and in 2005 she produced Portland Style a 30-minute local style and fashion television show.

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