The biggest challenge we all face in terms of nonprofit sales isn’t how to win people over, it isn’t how to pitch, and it’s not how to close.
The biggest problem is access.
We are not selling a product with a defined market price, which is why it can take the same (or more!) time, effort, passion, and skill to raise a $1,000 donation as it does a $100,000 donation. What matters is how big that donation is for each person.
So the question arises: how do we get access?
The only real answer—which on some days feels energizing and on others relentless—is to generously, consciously, and actively be in always-on sales mode.
“Generously” because the only way to make real connections is to actively, deeply, and truly care about creating value for the people you’re connecting with, with no expectation of return.
“Actively and consciously” because this requires clear and deliberate prioritization in the midst of an already too-full agenda. That can be hard if the yield isn’t immediate: this next person simply is not going to write you a check for $100,000, so, do you meet her anyway?
It helps to remind ourselves that our most valuable connections are “weak ties”—the ones at the edges of our social network. This means that what we’re really doing in this next hour is taking another step in our multi-year project of creating a strong, connected, personal web of shared values, purpose, and mutual support. The web we are weaving creates real and lasting value for all of its members, including, hopefully and eventually, for us.
Tangibly, this means things like:
Always, every time taking the extra conversation that might lead to something that might lead to something.
Keeping your antennae up for people with the same type of passion that you have.
Remembering that your job is not to get the next lead, your job is to collect allies and advocates, the kinds of people who make things happen with verve and joy and passion, because that’s the virtual army that your life’s work deserves.
Because, when you boil it all down, people who do amazing interesting and important things know other people who do amazing interesting and important things.
And, if you find and add value to enough people doing amazing interesting important things, and if at least some of them become wildly passionate about YOUR amazing interesting important thing, eventually they will roll up their sleeves for you, eventually they will lend their best thoughts to you, eventually they will become part of your journey.
Bit by bit, over time, those relationships will lead to more relationships that will eventually get you in the room with a person who can write a 10x or 100x bigger check and who is positively disposed to the conversation they’re about to have with you, because they’ve heard about you from one or three or five other amazing interesting people doing important things. Then you need to close that sale.
It’s a long road from here to there, but you distinguish yourself on Day 1 by committing to walk this path.
And, if you’re just beginning on this journey, and especially if you think of yourself as “results oriented,” I’d encourage you to be a little less discerning, a little less linear, and a lot more energetic and generous, and see where that path leads.