What Can Business Learn from Nonprofit
Organizations about Inspiring Customers?
By Terry Barber
Judging by many of
today’s corporate taglines and promises, you would assume these
inspiring sound bites belong to nonprofit organizations. Listen to
just a few of my favorites from some of the world’s most recognized
“To inspire and
nurture the human spirit”
potential, our passion”
“To improve the
lives of the world’s consumers – now and for generations to
to the overall health and wellness of our world”
These are not
statements associated with just a social responsibility policy.
These are core parts of mission and purpose statements proudly
displayed on corporate Websites. As today’s brands attempt to
differentiate themselves from their many competitors, more and more
will attempt to be truly inspiring brands.
And why not?
Companies who are genuinely converted from old-line commercialism to
do-good capitalism are likely to find a powerful connection to the
intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the customer.
This is exactly the kind of connection business needs in order to
acquire and sustain a loyal and passionate following these days.
In anticipation of
a wave of business entering the waters of inspiration, further
blurring the lines between for-profit and not-for-profit, I’d like
to provide some guiding principles that I have used with nonprofits
for years for those in business who aspire to inspire.
To inspire the consumer, you must help him believe in something that he
once thought was impossible.
This is where
innovators will thrive and institutions will die. Innovators will
think in quantum leap fashion. “Institutions” will think
incrementally. If you have to describe your company’s dreams and
ambitions only in the context of a percentage of growth, you are not
inspiring anyone. A key indicator is how you are communicating your
promise in your tagline. Here are a few inspiration busters to
“We want to be
“We want to
sell the most.”
“We just want
to make a fair profit.”
“We promise the
best value for the dollar.”
All are noble.
None are inspiring. Making me believe in something that I once
thought was impossible begins with words like imagine, dream,
accelerate, change, empower, and energize.
Some of the most
dynamic meetings I have ever been involved in were those in which I
asked my clients, who are nonprofit organizations, “What would the
world look like if you were to fulfill your mission tomorrow?” Try
that for your next team meeting and you will quickly uncover whether
you have the capacity to be inspiring or not.
To inspire the consumer, you must show genuine appreciation for his or
organizations are by and large exceptional at making their donors
feel special. Even the average donor receives a thank-you note, and
at some level, usually at the $100 giving level, even a thank-you
phone call. By those standards, how many companies should you have
received a thank-you call from? Hey, by those standards, I should
most certainly receive thank-you calls from Whole Foods, Starbucks,
and American Express!
are effective in retaining customers – until a better loyalty
program comes along. That’s because so-called customer appreciation
days are typically traps for more up-selling, and people know that.
So their “loyalty” is, understandably, short-term.
expressing genuine appreciation creates a lifelong relationship.
Imagine how a customer would feel if he received a message simply
saying, “Thank you for being such a great customer [or client]. We
are not calling to sell you anything else, only to say thank you.”
To inspire the consumer, you must help him see that he is a part of a
bigger community of world changers.
One of the most
powerful fund-raising terms is the word join. “Join the fight.”
“Join the cause.” “Join me” – all indicating that you can be a
part of something much bigger than yourself. More than ever before,
our identity is being defined by the communities we are a part of,
even if those communities are virtual. If business can follow the
lead of the nonprofit organization, its leaders will participate in
social media for the sake of connecting customers to other
customers. In so doing, customers, just like donors, will lead the
way into new relationships and new markets. Create or tap into
platforms for connecting people in and around your mission.
To inspire the consumer, you must communicate how you are making the
world a better place.
I recently had the
privilege of traveling to Guatemala with a child sponsorship
organization. This is an organization I had supported in a modest
way for years. But after that firsthand look at how my dollars were
being used to help children who were truly impoverished, my giving
level will never be the same.
I recently met with
a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company and saw this principle illustrated in
the most dramatic fashion. Throughout the building there were maps
with pushpins marking various towns, cities, and villages around the
world where this company and its employees were providing clean
drinking water for indigent people groups. There was an underlying
message there that said, What we are doing as a company is helping
to make the world a better place. No matter what kind of business
you are in, learn from the nonprofit sector that you can inspire
your customers by illustrating how you are making the world a better
Do you aspire to
inspire your customers? Give them something to believe in that they
once thought was impossible. Demonstrate genuine appreciation for
their business. Help your customers connect with other customers to
illustrate that they are part of a bigger community, and communicate
how you as a business are making the world a better place.
Lead and they may
follow. Teach and they may learn. Inspire and they will never be
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