Monday, August 10, 2015

Sell solutions, not problems

For those of you who believe that marketing your nonprofit mission is all about explaining a problem…

Wise up!

Donors at all levels want solutions that solve the problem, not perpetuate it. For new or smaller nonprofits, establishing that you have the resources to do that is one of your biggest hurdles.

That's not to say that you shouldn't include the high points of the problem as a explanation for your solution. After all, there has to be a reason to ask for other people's money, whether you are selling a car or a cause.

That's what the statement of need is for, but if your whole pitch is about telling people what they probably already know, you're going to lose their interest quickly.

Unless your mission is very unique or seldom addressed, donor education on the problem is sometimes regarded as just so much more PR hype. More importantly, it wastes valuable space in your proposal.

For local nonprofits, much or your funding is going to come initially from your local area; usually at  the city, county or sometimes state level. 

A case in point

To  combat a stray dog problem,  county commissioners passed an ordinance requiring all dogs be spayed or neutered to receive a license, or that the owners get a $350 annual kennel license for unaltered animals.

As often happens when governments get involved, the policy had unintended consequences. The population of unlicensed and freely breeding dogs skyrocketed.

A local but small  mid-South animal rescue had been trying to build a no-kill shelter for almost five years, with little success. They had four acres of donated land, but little else. The cheapest plans they could put together were still coming in at $2.7 million dollars for construction and all the corresponding preparation costs, including an environmental impact study.

The problem wasn't so much irresponsible pet owners as it was the cost of the surgery. Even at the so-called county discounted average price of $175.00 per animal, most owners in the economically distressed county just couldn't afford it.

The rescue wanted to switch tactics. They contacted every vet in the area and asked them if they could offer  spay and neuter services for $75.00 per head in return for guaranteed payment. 87% of them agreed.

The new mission of the rescue was to collect funds to offer prepaid vouchers to the owners to give to the veterinarians. The owner would contact the rescue, receive a voucher number, take that to the vet within 30 days of issuance, the vet would turn in monthly confirmation of the surgeries  to the rescue, and they would then pay the vets. They will call the campaign "More pets, less puppies"

At present, there are still some logistics to be worked out, such as what to do with animals that have no owners, but initial response to the concept has been outstanding. Pledges have tripled in just a few months.

Why this works

County residents already knew about the problem. They wanted it fixed, but not at the expense of maintaining another shelter forever and ever.

This idea offers a real solution to animal overpopulation. It short, people can see the time when the need for the program will dwindle down to a minimum level.

Results are germane to the county residents. No one wants to have their dog impounded and destroyed, but economics is still the driver of family budget decisions. People who are tired of packs of free roaming dogs can see an end in sight.

Veterinarians, some of whom  had been doing some surgeries for free as a public service, will realize more income, most of which goes back into the community in the form of wages and local purchases.
Even the county benefits, since their animal control personnel can spend more time on abuse cases instead of rounding up whole packs and litters of dogs. What little extra revenue was coming from dog licenses will be more than covered by a reduction in county personnel costs for overtime.

Focusing on impact

Rethink your approach to your mission. See if your programs can be redesigned to offer real solutions to the root cause of the problem. Give donors a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel, instead of just a longer tunnel.

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