For businesses that sell products and services to individuals, delivering social benefits provides a way to set themselves apart and overcome today’s fierce competition on price, quality, and convenience. That can hold important lessons for nonprofits. To uncover just what drives growth for companies, Mission Measurement research identifies the traditional and social benefits that matter most to consumers/customers. For example, in the fast-food category, we’ve found that as much as 44 percent of a consumer purchase is driven by that individual believing he or she is buying a quick meal from a company that provides healthy options and natural foods. On the other hand, companies competing solely using more traditional incentives, like cheap food, fast service, or even opportunities to donate to charity at the cash register, are largely losing ground. To illustrate this point, look at Chipotle. Its philosophy is that consumers want to eat fresh food that is produced using sustainable practices and resources. This “food with integrity” philosophy has helped Chipotle grow exponentially while much of the fast-food industry has been lagging. And its Cultivate Foundation adds to its perceived social value by funding “initiatives that support sustainable agriculture, family farming, culinary education, and innovation that promotes better food.”
A central lesson to take from this trend is that people are often willing to support products, services, or organizations that have a direct, positive “social” (think environment, health, justice, etc.) impact on their life, their family, or their community. This trend applies whether you are a company or a nonprofit. For example, if you help individuals make healthier dietary choices, directly or indirectly, they will place greater value on what you do than if you just provide sustenance.
So when you promote your nonprofit, think not only about how you impact your beneficiaries but also about the value your organization delivers to those who support it. How do you make your donors’ or volunteers’ lives better? Is the benefit that donors feel more educated and civically engaged by having a financial stake in a cause they care deeply about? Is the benefit that donors are contributing to creating a more pleasant neighborhood to live in? Is it that by engaging with you, volunteers’ kids will have more opportunities to learn about science?
Answering this question can be challenging in a nonprofit world in which donors are often indirectly benefitting from the causes they support. But, it is nevertheless a useful exercise. By defining the social benefits your supporters accrue, you can more persuasively engage them. This applies not only to current supporters but potential supporters as well, especially corporations. When working to secure corporate funding, it pays to consider what matters most to the consumers or customers of that corporation. And by doing so, you can develop a pitch focused on your ability to help the corporation deliver what its consumers or customers care about most.
For instance, a nonprofit educating children on the health benefits of fresh and healthy foods might pitch a partnership opportunity to a company like Chipotle since both are interested in creating demand for more sustainable, less processed foods.
Another example of a partnership might result from market research that revealed that vacationing families want to find getaways that provide opportunities for not just R&R but for deep family bonding as well. So a nonprofit that can create a volunteering program that provides a fun, educational, and meaningful family experience might try to team up with a hospitality company. In a partnership like this, the nonprofit secures funding, the corporation uncovers a new growth opportunity, and consumers get the experiences they are looking for.
These are just two examples, but as social impact becomes increasingly important to consumers, there will be even more opportunities for nonprofits to sell their impact and, by doing so, secure more funding and expand their work.