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5 Strategies for Selling to Nonprofit Organizations

Salespeople often overlook nonprofit organizations when building a list of prospects. That's a huge mistake.

Salespeople often overlook nonprofit organizations when building a list of prospects or planning their inbound marketing strategies. That’s a huge mistake for you and your competitors alike, because nonprofits are a largely ignored market with enormous economic potential. The following statistics show exactly how sizable this sector is:

Related: How Your Business Can Build Lasting Partnerships With Nonprofits

  • There are over 1.5 million tax-exempt organizations globally.

  • In the United States, nonprofit organizations accounted for nearly 10 percent of all wages and salaries paid in 2010.

  • As of 2014, nonprofit organizations' share of national GDP was 5.3 percent.

That said, while nonprofits have less competition vying for them, they’re not necessarily low-hanging fruit. Nonprofits operate differently than for-profit organizations do, which means you’ll need a unique approach for selling to them. Here are five key strategies for successfully securing accounts with nonprofits:

1. Focus on saving them time.

One of the biggest problems that nonprofit organizations have is finding enough people to get the job done. For example, a recent survey of nonprofits found that 71 percent of nonprofit professionals surveyed said they believed they had a staff shortage. What you can take away here is that you don’t always need to focus on all the usual bells and whistles. Talk to your nonprofit leads about how you can save them time, and you’ll have a captive audience.

Related: 4 Lessons That Nonprofits Can Teach Entrepreneurs

2. Be patient.

Nonprofit organizations have lots of different moving pieces, making the sales process a bit longer than it is elsewhere. If a project or purchase is expensive and important enough, you’ll have to get approval from a nonprofit’s board or a committee, or maybe the largest donors. That’s in addition to the managers and day-to-day decision-makers that you’re already dealing with. Be respectful of this process, and be careful to follow up appropriately in order to seal the deal.

3. Network, network, network.

There are lots of networking opportunities for nonprofit organizations, and you don’t actually need to work at a nonprofit to join most of them. Becoming a member of these networking organizations gives you direct access to non-profit buyers. The Association of Fundraising Professionals is a great place to start. Make sure to research as many additional organizations as you can in your particular industry and state.

Considering that most of these networking companies are themselves nonprofits, they might even be a good fit for your product.

Related Book: Networking Like a Pro by Ivan Misner

4. Make your value proposition clear.

Every dollar that a nonprofit organization spends is reported to the IRS, and as noted, they are hard pressed for time. That’s one of the reasons the sales process tends to be long -- buyers need to make sure that they’re getting the most bang for their buck.

Thoroughly analyze each nonprofit’s operations and needs separately. Discuss how your company might specifically benefit them, and what gaps you’re able to fill that the competition cannot. If you’re in a particularly competitive industry, you might even consider offering a special discount to all nonprofit customers.

5. Stay genuine.

Don’t forget that the key difference between nonprofit and for-profit organizations is that nonprofits aren’t out to make money. They’re in business because of something they truly care about (not necessarily charity). Most likely, their employees are there for the same reason. If you really want to connect with a nonprofit lead, it’s important to share its beliefs.

This makes you more of a trusted advisor and less of another sales-oriented company simply trying to make money off them. If a nonprofit doesn’t share your values, you’ll need to find other ways to build rapport or perhaps simply look at other leads that are a better fit.

Related: 5 Tips for Launching a Non-Profit Campaign on Kickstarter

Selling to nonprofit organizations is extremely lucrative, but takes special time and effort. If you follow the advice, focusing on time and value, appropriate networking and nonprofits that you genuinely care about, you’ll improve your sales while forging a connection with people who are authentic, honest and mission-driven.