From commercial to non-profit networking

My insights on being a salesperson in a non-profit organization

As part of the Voys sales team, I spend a lot of my working time networking and communicating with other businesses and organizations. On many occasions I have come into contact with non-profit organizations. Most of the time they just need your support to help them achieve their mission and goals. I take the time to listen to what they have to say and I ask questions to see what they have to “sell”.

During these conversations, I have always wondered what it’s like for a salesperson in a non-profit organization, but for some reason I have never asked this question out loud. Is their work so different from the work of a salesperson in a commercial company? Recently I had the opportunity within our company to move from working solely with the sales team to spending some time helping establish 48percent.org. This gave me the opportunity to answer my own questions and in this blog post I will share with you what I found.

My role within 48percent.org

Last November 48percent.org officially became a foundation. Although I have been only contributing to the organization since then, I have followed its development since the beginning. I really felt connected to the mission. Equality is something I have always strived for and acted upon, inside and outside of my work. When I came to know that they were looking for someone that could help them grow the partner network, I didn’t hesitate to volunteer.

We are a young foundation and are therefore busy with expanding our partner network. We want to learn from other foundations and organizations with a social purpose. In addition, we realize that we can make the greatest impact when we work together. This is enough reason to get in touch with other fellow fighters and schedule a meeting with them. Making new connections is something I like to do and this is familiar territory for me. So I am happy to take on this task!

First contact with other organizations

There are plenty of non-profit organizations in the Netherlands that connect with one or more of our program lines, so we decided to get in contact with those organizations first. There are a couple of benefits starting with organizations close to home. Making contact in your native language is a little bit easier and this way we can do the first interviews face to face when possible, or digitally over video chat. My experience is that it’s way easier to connect with someone when you can see them and you get more impactful information from your conversations this way.

Just like I have always done in my other commercial roles, I started searching the internet for organizations that fit our target group. Once I had this list completed I tried to get in contact with the right person. Most of the people I get to talk to are very open and enthusiastic about what they and their organization are doing. Even on the phone you can feel the passion they have for their work and are open to scheduling a personal appointment.

One thing I found striking was, just like in the commercial world, it is difficult to get in touch with the right person right away. Here too, of course, everyone is busy and in many cases people work voluntarily and do this work alongside their current job. Scheduling an appointment once you do find the right person, on the other hand, is a lot easier. In many cases I was invited immediately. I think this is because we don’t come to sell anything, but are sincerely interested in what they do. And vice versa, I have come to notice that they are also very interested in what we do and how we might be able to help each other achieve our goal. Helping each other should always be the goal, but in the commercial world not everybody sees it this way.

Face to face conversations

At the beginning of this year, we made our first visits. Together with colleague Pollien van Keulen, our strategist, we visited ICT vanaf Morgen and Warchild. The latter organization is more globally known, I think. Last year we contributed to one of their inspiring projects; Can’t wait to Learn. And recently, I also visited Stichting RRDF and had a video conference with Free Press Unlimited. All of these organizations have a couple things in common: they are working toward a very good cause and they have lots of experience and expertise.

To be ready for these meetings, I prepared a document with interview questions beforehand. I use this as a guideline however, because I don’t want to be too inflexible and I always let the interview run its course. Between the passion of these people and our sincere interest, all our questions are usually answered through the natural course of conversation. We are curious as to what’s the most beautiful thing they have achieved as an organization, but also as to how they got their funding, the biggest obstacles they encountered and whether they would have done things differently afterwards et cetera. We like to conclude by asking  whether they have any tips for us and what help they could use from us.

Our learnings from these conversations so far

It is becoming clearer that we can make little impact on our own. Instead, collaborating with other organizations is the key to success when you want to make the greatest possible impact. The experience is that everyone is really open to this. I love it!

Another take-away from these conversations I learned is when working on projects across borders, it is important that you delve deeply into the cultural differences with a country. Take the time to ask questions locally and listen to what people and organizations have to say. It seems logical and obvious, but every organization makes the mistake of plunging into something very quickly out of enthusiasm and thinking that only good intentions will do the trick. Of course you also don’t want to wait forever to take action. Somewhere you have to find a middle ground in this.

But how do these interactions compare?

Looking for other organizations and getting in touch with the right people doesn’t differ much from those experiences in the commercial world. You have to be driven to make new connections and network. Being proactive is key!

From the first moment you get in touch with someone, the work changes compared to a commercial job. Once these organizations or people know what you are doing as an organization and what your intention is, they open up much faster. Seems logical, because in the first place you aren’t selling anything, and in the second place you both want to make the world a little bit better. It starts with the first call. People are very open and give you lots of information. I am even quickly invited to pay them a visit. How cool is that, I don’t even have to ask! During the actual face to face meeting they tend to open up even more and you see the spark in their eyes. It’s so awesome to see when people really talk passionately about their work. This gives me great energy and motivation.

Passion for the subject makes talking easy

So to answer my main question: Being a salesperson in a non-profit world is awesome! The basic work you do is about the same, but making connections is easier and you go more into depth. And the fact that you are doing something to make the world a better place gives you a great feeling. Although I always have a lot of fun connecting with people and selling services and products, it’s nice that I don’t have to try so hard. The conversations I have feel more equal. This makes sense, because we are all passionate about our purpose and we really do need each other to make a difference.

Still there is lots more to learn from our partners. They have so many years of experience. So we will continue having these conversations and sharing our learnings. I’d like to give a big shout out to all of those that took the time to share their knowledge with us. You have been very helpful and your passion is motivating!

In sharing my experience and insights, I hope that it has given you food for thought, as well as raised some questions. I would love to hear your thoughts and questions on this subject, just leave a comment below or on our social posts. We are always looking for people to have more conversations, so if you are interested, get in touch!

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About the author: Arnoud Oosten contributes his positivity and networking skills to make the 48percent.org partner community grow. When he isn’t busy helping us or growing the reseller network from Voys, he is his connecting with his friends and trying to stay in shape.