It Really Is Different: Seven Tips for Marketing to Nonprofits

As a consultant or vendor to nonprofit organizations, you have special challenges in marketing your service or product. What's different than marketing to for-profits? Here are seven tips that can help you market in the nonprofit sector:

  1. Expect a long sales cycle.
    A nonprofit has many different constituents. Often the board, executive committee, major donors and other people need to okay a decision before it can reach final approval. A major purchase, such as a contract for capital campaign fundraising consulting, can take up to 18 months or more to complete. The key is patient persistence. Following up diligently over the long-haul keeps your proposal fresh.
  2. Consider affordability.
    Most nonprofits have tight budgets. Products or services that are overpriced are unlikely to sell. It's also helpful to show how a product or service will benefit the organization's bottom line. Offering flexible terms for payment may help the nonprofit maximize cash flow.
  3. Join the right organizations.
    Are you a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals? Are you a supporter of your region's or state's nonprofit organization association? If you market to higher education institutions, consider joining Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. The Association of Healthcare Professionals is for those who encourage philanthropy in hospitals and other healthcare organizations. Networking in these groups expands your reach and introduces you to your prospective market. By becoming active on a committee or presenting at an association conference, you can enhance your visibility even further.
  4. Form alliances with your peers.
    Who says all other consultants or nonprofit vendors are competitors? There are likely symbiotic ways you can work together. A consultant or vendor for nonprofits can be a great source for business referrals. Make sure they know about you and your products and services so they can easily refer you and your company. One way to further network with your peers is to join the Alliance for Nonprofit Management. They promote capacity building in the sector by both consultants and nonprofit associations. To serve your client in the best way, it's helpful to have a network of consultants and vendors who provide different services. Then you can save your client time and trouble by pointing them in the right direction.
  5. Talk to funders.
    Corporations, foundations and individual donors are revered by most nonprofits. A referral or endorsement from one of these institutions increases your chances of a sale. Funders are familiar with a number of nonprofits and are some of the first to be aware of an opportunity for a vendor or consultant. Many organizations like to support capacity building within organizations. If your product or service fills that need, you may find the source of your pay is a grant or gift.
  6. Know your stuff. Do you know the latest fundraising techniques and tools for strategic planning? Keeping up with the nonprofit community is a must. Read The Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Nonprofit Times, Philanthropy Journal and newsletters put out by nonprofit associations. Read the latest books by nonprofit professionals so you will be in a position to help your clients succeed. Attending workshops and conferences for content, not just networking, keeps your knowledge fresh.
  7. Care.
    Most people who work for nonprofits care about the cause they are serving. They find meaning in their work beyond monetary reward. Your motivations for being in this sector are evident to your clients. Of course you want to make money. Just remember that when your values are aligned with your clients' values, you'll be a trusted long-term partner in helping the nonprofit achieve its mission.
Rebecca L. Worters is founder and former president of Capability Company, an executive search firm serving nonprofit organizations, institutions of higher learning and government agencies.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]