Thursday, July 22, 2010

A New Kind of "Sales Team"

By the time I was eight years-old, I realized that being a salesperson might not be my calling. I remember walking around my neighborhood with my older brother, Blake, trying to get people to buy overpriced packages of lentil soup for a school fundraiser. In case you were wondering, lentil soup is a tough sell. Each time we approached the door of a neighbor, the scenario remained identical: Blake and I would knock then argue over who had to do the talking, a tired-looking adult would come to the door and fail to hide their disappointment when they realized the intent of our intrusion, some excuse would be made about allergies to lentils or a niece's fundraiser the person had just supported, and we would trudge away to the next house. Aside from some sympathetic family friends and relatives who were probably eating lentils for the entire winter, it's safe to say we didn't make a whole lot of sales.

Last week,
Tutor/Mentor Connection intern Willow Yang Liuqing approached me to see if I'd be interested in attending a workshop today on marketing for nonprofits and on building successful media campaigns through Community Media Workshop. Given my previous foray into "marketing," I knew I could use some tools and strategies. Even though advocating for tutoring and mentoring programs is a much different (and more rewarding) "product" than--say--
lentils, much of our work at Tutor/Mentor Connection involves reaching out to the community and gaining supporters. We therefore hoped to learn more about how to effectively communicate the mission of Tutor/Mentor Connection to a broad spectrum of individuals.

The attendees of the workshop came from a wide variety of organizations ranging from museums to direct service nonprofits. It became clear through the presentation and through conversations that followed that everyone in the nonprofit sector grapples with similar challenges and questions.
Do people actually look at our facebook pages? Is social media as effective
as traditional media? At what point do people start tuning out even worthy messages?

In a way, I was relieved to know that others share many of the questions that have been going through my mind as I begin this position and try to find the best means to network with others, share stories, and build a community of supporters for Cabrini Connections and Tutor/Mentor Connection.
The presenters from Active Transportation Alliance stressed the importance of reaching beyond staff; although their organization has over forty employees, they still draw upon
volunteers, pro bono work from businesses, and interns as key actors in marketing their campaigns. They discussed the value in building longstanding relationships with media, volunteers, businesses, communities, and other nonprofits.

Clearly, gaining support for a nonprofit industry is a lot different than trying to sell a product, and unlike lentils, the mission of Tutor/Mentor Connection is something about which I am truly excited. I believe in the value of getting quality tutor/mentor programs into every neighborhood and that meaningful relationships with adults are integral to students' successful entry into colleges and careers. Now it's a matter of communicating that mission, cultivating relationships, and allowing people to become advocates themselves
as they realize we are all key stakeholders in youth's futures.

I encourage you to visit Dan's blog to learn more about who we are, and to check out the upcoming Tutor/Mentor Jam for a fun way to support programs in Chicago!

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