Selling for Social Ventures

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Tech startups aren’t the only ones who have to sell.  Social ventures spend a significant amount of time onboarding partners and resources to benefit their efforts. This is some insight into how to go about selling your socially impactful work.

Step 1: Clearly know and live your beliefs.

As Simon Sinek states: “The why is more important than the what.” If you don’t know how your program is different from other programs and if you don’t live out your beliefs, you won’t be able to articulate them with high fidelity to your future sponsors/partners.  As a result of your program’s culture and beliefs, some partners will be a good fit for your program’s cultures and beliefs. Some won’t.  That’s Okay.  All this is to say that what you believe and what your partners believe need to align.

Step 2: Understand Partner Motivations

Let’s flip it around. What are the motivations and desired outcomes that program sponsors have?  Here is what we have uncovered:

  1. a) Shared Beliefs/Altruism — They believe what you believe.
  2. b) Brand Equity/Association — They wish to associate their brand with aspects of your program to enhance their brand and position.
  3. c) Recruitment — Partners communicate to future employees their commitment to socially impactful initiatives, which is a selling point in recruiting new talent.
  4. d) Retention — Partner organizations are able to provide their employees the opportunity to participate in your work in building or supporting the future and betterment of its community.
  5. e) Continuing Education/Exposure to the future — Let’s face it, some jobs are not going to expose employees to diverse views, skills and knowledge. Through partnership, organizations are able to expose their employees to new ideas and opportunities to enhance their skill sets.
  6. f) Loss leader — Participation now will give partners early opportunities for relationship building which may prove valuable to a sponsor in the future.

Step 3: Getting to Yes

Part 1: Go to where your future sponsors are and get to know them as people. Travel to conferences; Attend their events and lunches; Look for informal opportunities where trusted relationships begin — opportunities where people can be who they really, truly are. Simultaneously, ask what they believe and explaining what you believe. Look for clues and hints about other motivations and desired outcomes and determine whether a more formal relationship is a good cultural fit.

Part 2a: Earn the right to ask. Don’t ask for the moon. Ask for something small, even as small as visiting your offices. If you successfully deliver on those items and they get to know your culture and beliefs, then look into partnering to a greater extent and building a trusting relationship where partners will want to support you more — you will earned the right to expand your relationship.

Part 2b: Don’t ask blindly. Tailor your asks to your partners, noting their motivations and desired outcomes.  Is mentoring important?  Do they want their employees engaged?  Do they need a more tangible economic return now or in the future or ever?

Part 3: Do what you say you’re going to do — fulfilling the original agreement. Deliver and report results openly and honestly and look to the future of the relationship.

Finally here are some practical tips/tactical items as part of the sell:

1) Take the first risk: Travel to meet people where they are and support their travel to you as needed for relationship building.  If possible, prove things out with your own money so that others can see the promise of your work. Once your work is prototyped, then you have earned the right to ask.

2) Be patient: It could take months, even years, to move from the first meeting to asking for more meaningful support. Build the relationship for alignment and it will be lasting.

3) Showing is better than telling: Whenever possible have your partners witness your work firsthand, whether that means inviting them to your space and events or bringing your results on trips so partners can see first hand how your beliefs manifest. It is expensive at times but witnessing your work is powerful.

4) Two ROIs: There is the Return on Investment and the Return on Involvement.  Focus on involvement.


Hillary Quirk is the Community Manager at Start Co.  Contact her at info@neverstop.co