3 Things For-profits Can Learn from Nonprofits

By Karen Loggia

Imagine if…before you bought your next computer, you asked what the store’s general manager earned per year, reviewed the percent of revenue the company spends on overhead, reviewed their credit rating, looked at the suppliers that provide the raw materials, and demanded that all advertising dollars are used in precisely the way you want.

Sounds ridiculous, but often it’s the level of scrutiny with which we review nonprofits.

At last year’s The Bridge Conference, I listened to a number of nonprofits talk about their best practices. And while we often hear that nonprofits can learn lessons from big businesses, I was struck with precisely the opposite: that big businesses have a lot to learn from nonprofits.

Nonprofits are Mission Driven

When you talk to someone who works at or volunteers for a nonprofit, one thing is clear: They are passionate about their organization’s vision. Their approach to marketing activities, services, fund development and resource allocation is frequently well aligned with their mission.

For-profit takeaway: Is your company’s mission reflected throughout the user experience? For example, take Nike’s mission statement: "To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world." They also add, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

Nike’s stores, product design, advertisement and even packaging reflect this commitment to inspire us to keep moving and find our inner athlete. How can your company make all its customer touchpoints reflect your company mission and vision?

Nonprofits Recognize the Importance of Direct Mail

At least 50% of nonprofit marketers indicate that direct mail is part of their marketing mix, according to the DMA Response Rate Report of 2016. Direct mail plays a critical role in fundraising, engagement, and keeping donors informed. So much so that for many nonprofits, its use is not even questioned. And if resourced-constrained nonprofits can fit it onto their to-do lists, so can for-profit companies.

For-profit takeaway: Time and expense are often considered direct mail hurdles. But consider this: While email inboxes are routinely ignored, U.S. Postal Service data shows us that 98 percent of people check their mail daily. Envelopes that have an interactive device like a sticky note have a higher rate of interaction.

To overcome the resource and time roadblock, remember that when direct mail is part of a larger integrated campaign, a good chunk of the creative can be re-used. Additionally, reminding those in charge of budgets that response rates from direct mail is frequently reported as being larger than email’s can help get your project approved.

Nonprofits Show Appreciation for Every Dollar

To nonprofits, donations are anything but transactional—they understand that gifts from donors are heartfelt and make the missions of nonprofit organizations possible. This is true for all gifts, no matter the size, and this can help year-over-year donations. Thank-you emails and even handwritten notes often follow all donations regardless of the size.

For-profit takeaway: Imagine if you recognized your customer in a meaningful way after every transaction, no matter how small. A display of appreciation could be incorporated into the sales cycle in a number of ways – from a thank you on an invoice to a holiday card. Simple and often inexpensive acts can magnify and improve the customer experience, leading to more purchases in the future.

I have been fortunate to sit on the boards of a number of nonprofits, and I’m struck with how efficiently many of them use their resources. Key learnings don’t flow only from for-profits to nonprofits. Nonprofit organizations have a lot to teach us.


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