There’s a lot of selling going on at nonprofits, and it’s going on despite the fact that the idea of selling is horrifying to some people who work in the nonprofit world. However, a nonprofit needs to be selling if it expects to continually bring in new volunteers and donors to grow. And this is why strong sales leadership is so important if you run a nonprofit.
Leaders earn respect
If you’re a boss, your subordinates don’t exist in order to allow you to become lazy. Good leaders will ask their subordinates to do the same work that they would do: Sales leaders make sales calls with their sales team. They know it’s their job to make cold calls and call on accounts.
A big part of selling in the nonprofit world is fundraising. You are selling the idea of donating to your organization and cause. That means attending community events so that your nonprofit’s leadership is visible and can promote your organization’s mission.
I know of one executive director who wouldn’t go to outreach activities to gain more supporters. She said she didn’t have the time, yet she expected members of her team to attend the events. How can a leader like that earn her subordinates’ respect and dedication? Simply put, she can’t.
Good leaders will earn the respect of new people they meet when they display appropriate behavior. Leaders who publicly complain about other organizations are behaving inappropriately; good leaders are discreet. Good leaders will assume more formal behavior when meeting new people. They don’t assume someone they’ve just met is their new best friend and don’t disclose personal information. They also don’t hug people they just met—it’s creepy and inappropriate. Nonprofit leaders who haven’t earned respect will often find people are unwilling to donate to their cause; volunteers will drop off their board.
Respect other people’s time
Nonprofit volunteers are people who donate their time to support the causes they believe in. Since most volunteers have other full-time jobs, meetings with volunteers usually will occur at night or on weekends when board members can attend. The requirements for nonprofit meetings are the same as those for business sales meetings. Meetings should start and end on time; there should be an agenda.
I was involved with a nonprofit whose meetings were more like random events. Action items that were considered closed at previous meetings suddenly were reopened during subsequent discussions. Meetings that were called to start at a certain time were delayed until those who were “coming but running late” could arrive.
It is disrespectful to those who manage to organize their time and arrive on time to a meeting to delay a meeting’s start. Those who are running late, for whatever reason, have the responsibility when they arrive to quickly pick up the meeting’s discussion and not disrupt the meeting. Leaders who accommodate latecomers are detracting from their credibility as a leader. These leaders reward bad behavior and don’t promote team cohesion.
Model fiscal responsibility
In some nonprofits the idea of being fiscally responsible is not part of the business conversation because the leaders are working for a good cause. Fiscal responsibility, however, should be uppermost in a good nonprofit leader’s mind.
Just as sales profitability is key, so is nonprofit profitability. For a nonprofit that serves the needy, each wasted dollar takes away from money that could have purchased additional food, equipment, or other benefit the nonprofit is working so hard to accomplish. It does not engender confidence among donors to see their money being wasted, and it will difficult to ask for additional money or bring on new donors. There’s a balance between spending money to make money and wasting money. Here’s what I mean.
At one international nonprofit, the executive leadership decided to invite a nonprofit employee who worked in another country to speak at the annual fundraising gala. However, the plane ticket for this employee would cost the nonprofit many thousands of dollars. One local board member proposed an internet link which would allow the nonprofit employee to present live from his office overseas along with several of the nonprofit’s recipients; this would be at a minimal cost. The idea of having a live communications link would be exciting since some of the recipients would be speaking to the gala participants and showing them their gratitude for the donors’ hard work.
The argument of whether to fly in the employee vs. doing the link came down to cost. The national executive director told the local board member who proposed the live link idea, “Don’t worry. The money for the ticket isn’t coming out of your budget.” The local board member replied, “But it’s coming out of someone’s budget, and that’s not right.”
Why didn’t the national executive understand that demonstrating fiscal irresponsibility makes those who volunteer less likely to ask for donations and donate money themselves?
Successful leaders of nonprofit organizations are able to sell the idea of donating to their cause. Only nonprofit leaders who understand they are in sales and act accordingly will grow their nonprofits and get more donors willing to support their work.
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