Friday, January 28, 2011

Other People's Money

The first words most non-profit people say to me after “Hello” and “I really like your work” is usually “We don’t have any money.”

This is sometimes said because I’m a consultant and they don’t want my pitch. Sometimes it is said because it gets them off the hook for trying something new. Most times it is said because the non-profit they work for doesn’t fund their marketing and communications operation consistently.

My reply usually stops them in their tracks.

“Have you tried using other people’s money?” I say.

I’m sure, at first, many think I’m counselling them to rob banks. But then I explain that what I’m really talking about is partnership.

You don’t have any money. However, you do have a cause and, likely, a distribution network of people who believe in you. That’s worth something.

Now, think. Do you know any other non-profits who have similar needs as you, who aren’t necessarily direct competitors and who have either more cash or a different distribution network? Chances are you do.

Think some more. Often times “We don’t have any money” means “We don’t have any people who can do stuff”. Well, do you know any local groups that are rich in volunteers? You’re looking for a group that would give you their people if you had the right cause and the right type of commitment.

Now, think one more time (sorry, this blog is really taxing you). Do you know any local businesses that have money and want to reach your stakeholder group? This should be a business that your stakeholders would not object to. So, likely, used car salesmen need not apply. However, investment advisors, law firms or even real estate agents might do nicely.

Here’s the tricky part. Can you think of a big idea that would be the basis of a partnership for all of these organizations, including yours? It doesn’t have to be so big that you need to notify the UN. It just has to be bigger than what any of the organizations could do by themselves.

So, for example, what if you wanted to get into planned giving, but you can’t afford any money for marketing. Try this big idea. Contact some other local charities who are in the same boat and offer to lead a partnership to market estate gifts together. Then, contact the local seniors club. Wills and estate are an issue for them. How can you get them to participate in this? Maybe they could host an event? Now, bring in an investment advisor. Ask them for cash to make the thing work. Presto, you’ve got a marketing partnership.

The trick in partnerships is to make everybody a winner. So, to make this work, you’ll need to understand what everybody wants and what they bring to the table. Cash is great, but sometimes getting their distribution network to reach potential customers and stakeholders is better. Work out the rules in advance and do your homework!

So, next time you say “We don’t have any money” do some thinking. Ask yourself “Can we use other people’s money?” and see where it leads you.

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