Searching for a nonprofit’s Holy Grail.
It’s been some time since a company rose to prominence with their sole driving force being a pursuit of the greater good. I’d argue most movements that pursue the improvement of our society’s welfare find themselves flying off into a vast space of irrelevance, if they ever leave the launch pad, missing their target on which they intended to make an impact. Two companies that are on their way to creating an impact, as big as their founders could imagine, are Tesla and Tom’s. But, neither of these companies has achieved their success through a motive that is more compelling to consumers than any non-profit company could create. So why don’t nonprofits compete on this level?
Tesla, of course, is quickly making the 21st century their story, and why shouldn’t it be theirs? Elon Musk is literally driving the charge of combatting climate change, offering products that are forcing other players in the market space to ramp up their offering of efficient vehicles and low waste energy production like solar panels and Li-ion batteries. Our constantly-consuming population has consciously melded cutting edge technology into a combination with empathy for our world’s struggle to find a sustainable path. This has created a siren song of marketing that has enabled Tesla to realize unbelievable growth.
Tom’s, the footwear company that offers a buy-one-give-one model that assists those who lack a set of their own sneakers, has a very direct marketing approach, in terms of their quid-pro-quo exchange of clothing their customers while simultaneously clothing others. Tom’s business model may, at least on the surface, have a more immediate and tangible impact that the consumer aligns themselves with. Apart from these two companies, there is a spectrum of corporate marketing for products that are, somehow, shaping the world into a better tomorrow.
But what is it that’s unique about the for-profit companies that are successful in promoting their message of being a catalyst for creating a better tomorrow? “Unique compared to what?” Unique in comparison to the multitude of non-profits that are still sailing off into irrelevance, or never obtain a green light to launch.
Both for and not-for-profit companies are aware of the messaging consumers will not only react positively to, but financially support. With an immeasurable amount of overlap in messaging, why does it seem that non-for-profit entities struggle to achieve the size, and more importantly, the overall impact of those that are for-profit? I believe the answer lies in their scope.
When a for-profit company runs a messaging campaign that encompasses life-changing concepts and broad ideas of what could be, those expansive and yet definable concepts end up bottled into one, neatly packaged product that makes the buyer feel they are putting forth their best effort to bring about the changes they wish to see in the world. Their impact, as they see it, is produced from the sale of the product that has been wedged between the consumer and their ability to help create an ideal world.
This may be where the divide is created. I challenge you to find a nonprofit that creates a product, a wedge between the idea and the buyer, that compels the consumer to take part in making the world a better place. Perhaps in an effort to maintain a path of integrity and transparency in their activities, nonprofits often fail to take broad concepts of world improvement and capture them into a single transaction. After providing their support, an engaged supporter is typically left with little tangible proof of their impact, aside from the fleeting hope that their purchase of a recycled plastic bracelet or a $20 bookmark will do anything for causes like ending plastic pollution in the ocean or bringing literacy to impoverished countries.
Messaging, publicity, and funding are not the crux of the problem for organizations that fail to gain the momentum their cause deserves to have. The immediate issue lies with the lack of satisfaction in the transaction. Nonprofits must pursue creative ideas that allow for their potential supporters to see the immediate benefit they will receive if they help to advance the cause.
The Holy Grail of creating support for a cause involves maximizing both the contribution to the cause itself and maximizing the supporter’s feeling of immediate impact. To improve their odds of succeeding, nonprofit movements must reconsider how they maximize both of these factors in their transactions with supporters.
If you’re interested in following my cause, and watching how we develop methods of simultaneously maximizing both contributions to the cause and the supporter’s feeling of immediate impact, follow The Canopy Project, where people like you help our neighbors who need our support.