For-Profit Lessons from the Non-Profit World

<a href="https://unsplash.com/@euwars" target="_blank">Farzad Nazifi</a>
Farzad Nazifi

You say development, I say sales. For-profit sales and marketing teams and non-profit fundraisers have strikingly similar tasks, yet they often think of themselves as worlds apart. Whether you're offering a product, a service, or a charitable mission, many of the fundamentals cross over. The for-profits would do well to listen to some tips from the non-profits when it comes to research and relationship building.

Here are some thoughts on sales best practices from an expert in raising capital for a cause:

"It's all about cultivating relationships,” emphasizes Juliana Weissbein, a leading database manager and certified Blackbaud Raiser's Edge Professional in NYC.  "The process originates with in-depth research and profiling and culminates in carefully nurtured connections, but the overarching theme is the relationship between the individual donor and their passion for a cause. My job is to harness that passion and demonstrate why we are the optimal choice for their desire to do good."

As in the for-profit realm, the first step is to know the market, but in the case of the non-profit sector, the "market" is a bit more transparent. That's because in the development world, donors are rarely anonymous. "I'd estimate that no more than 5 percent, at most, of charitable giving is anonymous, so you can study your people more."

Development professionals have a hefty arsenal of tools for accomplishing their sales goals. While many in the non-profit world use CRMs familiar to those outside of the field, such as Salesforce, they also use Raiser's Edge for their extensive donor relationship management tasks. Advanced databases are integral to non-profit research, and the information goes well beyond age, gender or zip code to profile a vast array of screening points regarding prospective donors, lapsed donors, and donors with the potential to become even more generous in the next fundraising campaign.  Wealth databases such as WealthEngine , ResearchPoint, and iWave enable development professionals to target key demographics based on property ownership, prior charitable gifts, board membership, and business connections. Yet, none of this matters without fostering the donor relationship. 

This emphasis on the person rather than the product informs non-profits, right down to their software. Raiser's Edge, for example, contains multiple tabs and entrypoints for personal data regarding donors, and notably fewer regarding the programs they're "selling." It's a perspective that's deeply ingrained in non-profit culture; the notion that investigating and understanding people, their motivations, their histories and their world views serves as the catalyst for any potential financial connections that could transpire. 

"Listen. Find out what drew them in. Personalize. All the research tactics and donor management software in the world won't serve your organization unless you're able to generate trust and truly connect."

Perhaps more than any other category of sales professionals, development experts recognize that the human aspect of sales is what closes the deal.

Gabe Fenigsohn is a progressive writer, researcher and opiner on media, brand, and politics. He follows the social impact of advertising and is a member of the Brooklyn-based digital creative team Cardwell Beach.

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