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What Fundraisers Can Learn From Salespeople

Resource Center - Foundation

(March 15, 2011) You are a nonprofit fundraiser, so for-profit sales and marketing techniques have little to do with your job, right? Not so, says Jeff Mendola, an AFP member who comes from a career in for-profit sales and marketing. He uses elements of both in his role as fundraiser, and he thinks you should too.

"We often think of sales in negative terms and distance ourselves from the idea that fundraisers sell," Mendola says. "However, have you ever made a major purchase knowing nothing about the product in advance?" Probably not, he says. The same is true in fundraising. You have to reach out to people, spark their interest, inform them and earn their trust. These are core principles in sales.

Mendola will present a session at the International Conference on Fundraising in Chicago titled "Sales and Marketing are Not Four-Letter Words." In an interview with eWire this week he recommends that tapping into our experience as consumers ourselves can be very helpful in understanding the donor experience.

"A good salesperson is an advocate for you, the consumer," Mendola explains. "He or she will listen to find out your interests and honestly explain the features and benefits of the product being considered. They allow you to make an informed decision when you're ready. While they won't pressure you, they will ask you to make the purchase.

"Think of a great experience you might have had with a salesperson, and consider why you liked his or her approach. Were they a good listener? Were they knowledgeable? Were they interested in satisfying a need you conveyed? That is the secret to being a good salesperson," Mendola explains. "That is what will get you to come back to that business and encourage others to do business there."

A good salesperson will take their time, get to know you, build a relationship and earn your trust. They do not see you as simply a one-time customer. These are the things that a fundraiser should keep in mind to inspire loyalty in a donor and ensure they have a good experience in their giving to your organization.

More Than a Transaction

Mendola uses a pyramid model to describe the path a person follows to get to the point of making a donation. Understanding the path can help you with your own cultivation of donors.

Awareness. At the base of the pyramid there are people who are becoming aware of your brand and your organization. This is done in a wide variety of ways. Your goal is to be consistent in what you convey. Remember, you are communicating an overall sense of your organization all the time. If you have a specific idea of how you want to be perceived, that brand will get stronger.

Interest. One step above that, there is a smaller group of people who become interested in the cause and how donations make a difference. You will spark some people's interest.  How you inform them and guide them to further involvement is up to you. Listen and build a relationship. Explain how your product (your organization's impact to community) is different than others out there.

Advocacy. The next step up is advocacy, which involves taking that interest to the next level and prompting action to support a cause.  Advocacy includes spreading the word, encouraging your friends and family to join you, volunteering, providing a testimonial or attending an event.

Support. Finally, at the top of the pyramid, comes support. This is not where the story ends, but it is the result of your diligent cultivation. You've earned the person's trust. They "buy" what you are selling and make a donation. Like a great salesperson, a great fundraiser follows up with the "customer" and thanks them.  Down the road, you show them what their donation produced and you ask them to refer other people they know so that they too can share in this same enjoyable experience.

Targeted Approach

In both fundraising and sales, you have to target the best prospects. The same is true in marketing. If you are selling a particular kind of machine part used by welders, then masons are not your target audience. A salesperson needing to meet a bottom line knows this is a waste of time. Fundraisers can't afford to bark up the wrong tree either.

As with sales, fundraising happens in more ways than simply asking for money. You may create a t-shirt for your organization and sell it at an event. In addition to fundraising, you are increasing awareness by introducing new people to your brand. You likely attend events and staff a booth where people can find out about your organization. That is increasing awareness and interest.  Don't forget the donation bucket and you may generate support as well.  It's all about moving people up the pyramid, Mendola explains.

In the end, there are finite resources at your disposal. Fundraisers do have something to learn from those in the for-profit world, especially as donors become more and more discerning consumers.

Jeff Mendola is director of development and external affairs at Mercy Flight Western New York in Buffalo, N.Y. Learn how you can harness the power of sales and marketing to raise funds in his session at the AFP International Conference on Fundraising in Chicago, March 21 from 8 to 9:15 a.m.

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