Blog

Creating a new generation of data to solve social problems.

Say you’re a water infrastructure company and two nonprofit marketers reach out to you with an offer. The first one says:  “I would like to borrow your engineer’s time to build a water system in rural Africa.” The second one says:  “I can help your engineers develop the project management and communication skills they need to be higher-performing employees—which just so happens to involve helping to build a water system in rural Africa.” Which would you buy?

As marketers know, how we engage our audience matters. Too often in nonprofit marketing and fundraising, we are focused on ourselves: our programs, the services we offer, the beneficiaries we serve. Don’t get me wrong, those things are incredibly important; but they don’t give us much leverage with our donors. We shouldn’t be engaging with investors and donors by talking about our needs, we need to change the conversation to focus on their needs. We need to show them value. That means understanding the needs, challenges, pain points our investors and donors face and then telling them what we are doing that can help them meet those needs and challenges.

We often already are creating value, we are just not telling the world about it. Take the example above, which is from one client Mission Measurement worked with—a water charity that increases access to water and sanitation by building infrastructure in developing countries. They had a volunteer program where organizations could send employees on a two-week trip overseas to participate in one of their projects. When marketing the volunteer program, they had always talked about it as “an opportunity to experience the work being done in the field and support a critical need of the organization”.

Through market research we did with water and waste water companies—a key industry that supported the charity’s work—we found out that the volunteer experiences were delivering business value. The engineers who took part, it turned out, were simultaneously building critical soft skills, like project management, communication and relationship management that they needed to be promoted, but were not always getting in their daily role as engineers. By simply tweaking the language describing the program and the value that it offered, the charity can communicate in a much more compelling way to an industry core to their work.

What makes this even more compelling is companies know what they need and are willing to tell you. In our market research, the company representatives we talked to were excited to share the challenges they faced and the ways this charity brought them value. When asked why they hadn’t had the conversation before, their answer was simple: no one ever asked us before.

The added benefit of talking about value, not programs, is that when it comes to fundraising we can shift to value-based pricing. Traditionally, when we talk to funders, we ask them to fund a project, and share a line item budget of the costs involved. When we sell our impact, we can price based on the value an investor gets from our work—not the accounting behind it. For example with the water charity, what is it worth to a company to develop the skills of key employees?  Well, given what companies spend these days on training and employee retention, it’s probably more than the $2,000 it costs to fund an engineer going on a trip.

So change the conversation. Show investors the value you can deliver for them and have them pay the freight for it.  And if you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask them what they need. Their answers may surprise you.

This post originally appeared on the Chicago AMA Blog