What Non-Profits Can Learn From For-Profits

Dear Non-Profit Organizations,

Please take a moment to invite someone you know from a For-Profit organization to lunch. At this lunch, you will ask them all the ways they make their business successful. Then, you’ll take all these tips back to your “business”, incorporate them… and be successful!

I’ve been a little frustrated with several non-profits lately because they don’t seem to understand that non-profit organizations face many of the same challenges as their for-profit counterparts. For instance, both are generally trying to reach a niche target audience. While for-profit businesses tend to put some emphasis on defining and reaching this target audience in practice, non-profits seem to deal with this in only in theory. For example, we received a door hanger the other day that was pretty confusing, and, as a Marketer, a little funny. The mailer was written completely in Spanish, showcased two Caucasian people with blue eyes on the front, and was distributed in a location with a fairly low population of Hispanic people. In fact, the “minority” population is mostly Asian in the area of distribution. It makes no sense to send the message that you want to increase your service to the Hispanic community by distributing this door-hanger. The message in the text needs to match the message in the photos, and the overall message needs to match the demographic make-up of the geographic location.

Further, I volunteered for one non-profit that seemed to take the simplest task and make it incredibly complicated, thus wasting valuable volunteer hours. In their minds, they were “saving money”, but they failed to realize that often time is money when it comes to non-profits. Instead of trying to save a few dollars by turning a 1 hour task into a 2 hour task, it might make sense to spend the extra money and use your man-hours somewhere else. Businesses know that time is a valuable commodity that must be factored into decisions, but non-profits seem to leave this out.

Finally, it seems a lot of non-profits give very little time to Marketing in general. This is partly due to points one and two above… they don’t take time to really choose a segment to serve, and they think Marketing costs too much money. Their for-profit counterparts know that it takes money to make money. If you don’t know that a non-profit exists, how are you supposed to donate? If you don’t realize the merits of one non-profit over another, how are you supposed to decide which non-profit is most deserving of your attention? Non-profits should take time to understand who they benefit and why those who donate care about helping the charity. This information can help them target their Marketing and increase their funding for their cause. By neglecting analysis and Marketing, many non-profits may be losing out on significant donors.

Non-profits do good work, and they need the funding and volunteer hours to continue serving the community or helping the cause they’ve dedicated themselves to. But blunders in “business savvy” may be costing them valuable assets. I think a For-Profit should treat a Non-Profit to coffee and advice every so often!

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