Dear Nonprofits: Marketing is not a dirty word

I've spent a great deal of my career working in the non-profit sphere. I understand the almost overwhelming desire to separate your organization from anything resembling a business. 

Your organization is about the people.

Your organization is about the mission.

Your organization is about justice and equality.

And it is vitally important that nonprofits keep these values at the front of their minds, their policies, and their daily practices. But their are other realities as well.

Your organization needs to be funded.

Your organization needs to be sustainable.

Your organization needs volunteers and clients.

And those needs aren't just magically met. Many organizations have been lucky enough to have those needs met through non-conventional marketing efforts that never needed to be directly called "marketing" like asking friends and relatives for support, relying on a few large donors, or acquiring grant money from governments and foundations.

But increasingly, non-profits are needing to find a way to get their messages out to the masses and get what they need so that they can best fulfill their mission.

Marketing is how you do that. Ethical marketing.

Embrace it. Enjoy it. Understand it. Use it.

Work isn't my priority

Organizational and corporate leaders sometimes have a skewed idea of how people set their priorities. Leaders, especially in large companies, often have work as one of their top priorities. That's how they got where they are.  It is natural they assume others have a similar perspective.

But that isn't the reality.

I run my own business and work still isn't my main priority!

I have other areas of my life that are more important. Other pieces of who I am that come first. And sometimes that means I don't land a client, or I refuse a speaking engagement, or I ignore that important event. And I get away with it, because I am the boss.

But when employees do these very same things, higher ups are often confused. And frustrated. Especially when the employee is a younger employee. 

What do you mean you missed that networking event this week? Sure it was in the evening, but work is a priority!

What do you mean you didn't call that person back within 24 hours? Yes, it was the weekend, but it would have taken 5 minutes!

What do you mean...insert missed opportunity and correlating reason it would be perfectly simple to have made it work.

And it is true that employees CAN make a lot work. And many of them do.

But, many employees put work lower on their priority list than you may. And you either need to be okay with that, or be very clear in your hiring process what the expectations of the company are.

Because it is not okay to assume an employee will be going to evening events.

Or answering calls on the weekend.

Or...list any number of other expectations employers have of "dedicated" employees.

You hire your employees to do a specific job, within specific time periods. Anything more than that is not something you can expect.

Networking follow-up ideas

Networking events are a part of the life of any business owner. And they can be incredibly valuable...if you know how to use them. 

One of the struggles I consistently have is figuring out how to follow up and stay connected with individuals who were particularly valuable/engaging/fun in ways that makes sense and set me apart from others. 

If I have this struggle, I imagine some of you do as well. So here is a list of some of the best ways other people have followed up with me, and I now try to replicate when it makes sense.

  1. Simple card or note. Not exactly original, but if you have a particularly personal note inside, it is still memorable. I have a stack of cards that are always on my desk so I can shoot off a note to people I meet with.
  2. Send a book. Neely Tamminga with DISTILL did this for me; she sent me a book by Jon Acuff that she particularly enjoyed. This was a particularly memorable follow-up, and we now have something to talk about anytime we interact. Not practical for every connection, but a great option for those few connections that you find particularly valuable.
  3. Name them in social media. This can be as small as tagging them in a new post, or as significant as doing a video with pieces of your conversation as the focus (maybe get permission!). This shows you value your exchange and also gives them some visibility.
  4. Invite them to an event with you. You met at a networking event, so it stands to reason they are looking for more networking opportunities. A friend from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal did this for me, and it gave us a chance to interact on top of the great feeling of being thought of.
  5. Connect them to someone else. You may not be a potential client of theirs, but if you can connect them to a possible client or someone who can generally help them, they won't forget it. Don from Evolve did this for me recently, and now I am particularly aware of people who may need the services they offer.
  6. Grab coffee. This is a standard for a reason. Be sure to have a reason for coffee, and if you don't, wait until you do. You want this to be a positive experience. Maybe bring that potential connection to the meeting and use it as a chance to introduce them in person. Where possible, make the coffee date as convenient for the other as you can.

There are no tricks to employee engagement

It is time to dispel a myth that many employee engagement consultants would like you to believe. We want to believe that if we just find that one trick, that one special way of interacting, that one program, we will unlock the secret to an engaged workforce that sticks around and is happily productive. 

I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but no tricks exist.

I wish they did. And that I could hold that knowledge for people and make them pay big bucks to gain access to it. (What, did you think I would just share it with the world? I'm not THAT altruistic!)

But the truth is that employee engagement is simply long, hard work. It is the process of connecting with humans. Over and over again. No magic tricks. No secret recipe. Just work.

Sure, there are some ways of interacting that can help. I introduce companies to ideas and principles that are valuable. Some types of technology and programs can aid in the process.

But nothing is going to take your staff from disengaged to engaged overnight.

That takes time. 

That takes work.

That takes a lot of listening.

That takes change.

And the process never ends.