How sellers in charitable organizations can quickly embrace a commercial outlook

Trapped between charity and commerce, charitable organizations strive to embrace a quasi-commercial outlook. Therefore, it is imperative for their salespeople to morph at a faster rate.

When the dire credit crunch happened in the West a few years back, many charitable organizations were forced to interrogate how they do business.

Before, donor money would flow, and all the recipient charitable organizations had to do was initiate, oversee and submit progress reports on programs run. The credit crunch dried several such taps. Now these organizations are finding themselves in need of a more pro-active way of raising funds. In fact, some have diversified their product offering (products they offer). They have also recruited sales people (though most do not call them this) to seek said funds from commercial corporations.

Caught between charity and commerce, these institutions are struggling to rhyme the strategy, systems and structures of a charitable organization with those of a commercial entity. How then does one sell in these institutions?

1. Accept your status

Now then. The term salesperson may not be on your card but approaching your job as such will immensely increase your chances of success. One’s’ attitude has- and will always- play a key role in one’s selling success. The attitude that, “I’m special and not like those salespeople” will work against you. Immerse yourself in the new experience, absorb all you can and generally make it easy to shorten your learning curve. Don’t work against yourself. Choose the salesperson you admire and emulate him.

2. Avoid charitable thinking

Next, steer clear of expecting a sale based on “we are raising funds to fight poverty”. This is usually driven by the notion that the organization will be emotionally moved to act. It’s not moved, and it doesn’t act. And before you condemn them for being heartless commercial entities, how often (if ever) do you give money to beggars or the poor? How regularly (if ever) do you tithe? I’m willing to bet, closer to zero than always. In addition, these very organizations already have corporate social responsibility programs and some outright foundations, both which put you in direct competition.

Also, the country has been fighting illiteracy, poverty and sickness since independence and now 50 years later you come along professing to have the magic bullet? The seller must remain alert to these realities of ‘commercial’ thinking which were hitherto absent in ‘charitable’ thinking.

3. Make business sense

Thirdly, make business sense. Your ‘fighting poverty’ does not exempt you from demonstrating why it makes business sense to partner with you. Doesn’t matter if it’s through funding a program or releasing staff to go act as mentors in, say, a village polytechnic. And the key here is business sense. Commercial entities are driven first by the business sense of the idea. And then followed by what’s in it for our staff, and lastly, the social aspect of “helping”. This sequence of thinking must be paramount in the seller’s mind if he is to succeed.

So, when selling to a large motor vehicle dealer as to why they should release their staff, even for a day, think through it. The dealer will more likely be moved by the business sense of touching base with what the young mechanics-to-be are taught about repairing the dealer’s vehicles. This more than he will be with, “you will motivate your staff” or worse, “you will be socially responsible”.

From the buyer’s perspective, he will be irresponsible if he releases staff for a day on a venture that does not make business sense!


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