Selling Not Telling

Mention selling to a nonprofit executive or fundraising professional and you’re likely to get the ick-factor reaction.

“We don’t sell,” is often the response.  “Selling” is the crass, coercive activity that used-car salesmen use.  Or realtors.  Or door-to-door salespeople.

Well yes—and no.

Selling, in the best sense, is presenting an idea, service or product to a prospective audience in such a way as to test their need and acceptance of it.  With this definition, we are all selling all the time.  We sell ourselves every time we engage on social media, for example.

With nonprofits, the concept of selling gets a little murky.  The conventional wisdom says that you’re promoting your cause to others to solicit financial support.  What’s often called “fundraising.”

I liken this to “telling.”  You’re telling your prospective donors what a great organization you are and showing these folks the great work, you’re doing.

This approach certainly has some merit.  It does generate support.  But does it generate the sort of support that you can count on, year in, year out?  Moreover, is it support that will scale over time?

The answer to both of these questions is “No.”

When you cease to “tell” your prospective investors about the money you need, about how great your organization is, about how they may be morally suspect if they choose not to give, THEN you’re ready for the selling.

Sell you investors on how you can make their dreams come true.  Sell your donors on how you’ll give them a return on their investment they cannot get elsewhere.  (This means how much you can fulfill their heartfelt desire.)

Don’t know their dreams or desires?  Ask them.  In fact, Principle 4 of The Eight Principles®, Learn & Plan™, says you should know what makes your prospective investors tick before you even approach them.

“Oh, but I can’t possibly spend this much time on all my donors,” you say.  You don’t have to.

Use your time and resources strategically.  Not every potential donor will respond equally.  If you’ve learned who will support you—and who will only give you a throwaway gift—you’ll be able to spend the time you need on those who are just waiting to be wowed.

With our training platforms, we lead you step by step to fundraise without any wasted motion.  Raising much more money today and tomorrow at much lower cost.

Larry C. Johnson is the Founder of The Eight Principles and the author of the award-winning book, The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising.