Your supporters can be your best marketers
Whether your goal is filling training slots, after school programs, or endowment coffers, the old saying, "people buy from people," is as true as ever. A postcard, phone call, or e-mail from someone we know is more likely than anything to get us to act.
Think about it — are you more likely to pledge for a walk-a-thon if asked by a friend, or if you get a mass mailed letter?
Finding people to do the asking — from your staff, board, clients, supporters, and friends — is hard enough. The tougher part is using them wisely.
- How do you best use the goodhearted board member with a well-deserved reputation for inserting his foot into his mouth three words past "hello"?
- How do you put that shy, quiet techie to work on a word-of-mouth promotional campaign?
- How do you help that well-connected corporate volunteer ask for a donation and then close the deal?
In short, how do you convert these great volunteers into marketing representatives for your mission?
Gary Stern, in his wonderful book, Marketing Workbook for Nonprofit Organizations Volume II: Mobilize People for Marketing Success, describes four main roles people can play in any type of campaign. He categorizes the roles as ambassador, door-opener, cultivator, and solicitor.
Everyone gets to act in the play
The four roles Gary describes are wonderfully generous (like Gary, for those of you who've worked with him). "Roomy" might be another good word for these roles, because they make space for everyone to help out as best as they can. Here are the details on these four roles:
Ambassadors are the Johnny Appleseeds of your organization. They embrace your mission, are happy to scatter seeds, and love to watch their enthusiasm blossom among others.
Many, many people can assume this role, and it is not hard, even for the soft-spoken. Two capacities are required: 1) a willingness to represent the organization among any community the ambassador participates in — at home, among friends, at family gatherings, in choirs, wherever they affiliate; and 2) the capacity to leave a positive, informative impression of your organization.
Duties include scouting out potential prospects (people who can move your marketing agenda forward) and passing along those names to the team that is coordinating the marketing/fundraising activity.
The very best ambassadors are excellent networkers with bushel baskets of business card contacts (or perhaps a surgically-embedded cell phone port). There is no limit to the number of ambassadors you can use — the more people out scouting for prospects, the better.
Door-openers are the people who prove the old adage, it's not what you know, but who. Depending on your marketing goals, a good number of people can fit this role. You will be surprised at how many people connected to your organization "know someone." (Often, it's not six degrees of separation but only two or three.)
Requisites: 1) willing to provide the names of people they know and some information about them; 2) willing to let their name be used when making contacts; 3) willing to sign introductory letters as needed; and 4) willing to accompany solicitors (see below) when needed to smooth the way.
You will need as many door-openers as there are doors you need to open — if your target audience is tightly defined and limited you'll need fewer, while big goals with multiple audiences require more door-openers.
Cultivators are the warm-up pitchers on the crew. Fewer people fit this role. These people are natural hosts and entertainers. They need to be willing to make personal invitations and host prospects for golf, dinners, bird-watching expeditions, or coffee as fits the goals and situation.
The best cultivators will already be circulating in the social circles you need to target, and they must be enthusiastic about using their connections on your behalf. The number and type of cultivators — and cultivation events — relate to the strategies you've adopted to accomplish your marketing goal.
Solicitors are mission-based salespeople. While many people in the nonprofit world — sadly and wrongly — look down on "selling," great salespeople are gems.
These people share several marvelous qualities: 1) they care deeply about the product (your mission) and about the person they are talking with (your prospect); 2) they believe in and enjoy matching your mission with a prospect in such a way that everyone is happy and satisfied by the exchange; and 3) they are fearless in asking for a commitment (from both parties) to the exchange.
The number of solicitors you need for your project depends on the number of prospects you need to reach one-to-one and the number of calls you plan to assign to each solicitor.
Prompts for the actors
- Remember the mission. When you're weary, remember that the effort will bring the organization a bit closer to realizing its mission.
- Make an impression that would impress you. Know the organization. Connect the organization's activities to those things that most deeply touch you.
- Think the very best of people. People like to help other people. Marketing lore is rich with tales of people who gave 1,000 times more when asked.
- Take "no" for an answer. Sometimes no means "not right now" or "not that much," and so it helps to ask a follow-up. But if the answer is no, graciously accept it.
- Say "thank you." Thank people for their interest, time, attendance, consideration, help, agreement, even existence. Thank sincerely and thank often.
Tips for ambassadors
- Listen more than you speak. When contacts have the opportunity to tell you what they care about and think, you make friends for the organization.
- Accentuate the positive. People are attracted to stories of progress and positive results, and turned off by gloom and doom.
- Be contagious. Let your enthusiasm for the mission shine.
- Confirm a possible next step. When someone seems open to a possible next step (donation, willing to be contacted, wants to learn more, etc.) confirm that and get the information needed for the next step. Follow through as needed.
Tips for door-openers
- Be judicious. Promote unto others as you would have them promote unto you.
- Give a strong personal endorsement. When you make introductions, tell people how strongly you feel about the cause.
- Be visible. If the contacts you've opened the door to have been invited to a cultivation event, show up, welcome them, and thank them for coming. Introduce them to everyone they should meet.
Tips for cultivators
- Show 'em a good time. Successful cultivation means knowing your soil. Be a good host.
- Mix and match. Think creatively about who you invite to what. Be sure you are creating benefit for the people you invite by getting an interesting mix of people.
- Expect to be popular. Cultivation is a two-way street, so you can expect that the prospects you cultivate will invite you to a function that is important to them.
Tips for solicitors
- Let the prospect set the pace. You are in charge of moving things along, but take your cues from your prospect.
- Let them know you care. Talk with the prospect about why you care so much about the mission.
- Encourage them to talk. Pose open-ended comments and prompt the prospect to talk more with comments such as "What's an example of that?" "I'm not sure I understand," or "You mentioned something about..."
- Never get into a dispute. Sometimes prospects need to air grievances or share philosophies. Listen respectfully.
- Ask for the exchange. For some, this is the hardest part of the job, and they may want to practice in the mirror. Keep your eyes on the prize: an exchange that benefits both organization and prospect.
- Up-sell. We've all heard "want some fries with that?" Well, if the prospect offers $400, point out that the leadership circle is only $100 more.
- Don't forget to close! Never assume you've reached agreement until you formally close the solicitation.
- Don't worry about doing it perfectly. This is a real conversation, so relax and be yourself.
- If at first you don't succeed...you're normal! Take strikeouts in stride. Eventually, you'll get a hit.
- Say thank you! Always.
This article first appeared in the April 2006 edition of Fieldstone's Tools You Can Use e-newsletter, and is reprinted with permission.