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Partnering with non-profits can offer many rewards - but don't expect a pay day

Startup diary


Ironing out bugs: Working with a non-profit like World Speech Day can help with product development

Ironing out bugs: Working with a non-profit like World Speech Day can help with product development

Ironing out bugs: Working with a non-profit like World Speech Day can help with product development

Every startup needs a sales pipeline, and here at Voxgig we are developing (and executing) our sales pipeline strategy for 2020. Over the past few weeks, I've covered some of the tactics we are using to make this strategy work. The strategy is to use a disciplined approach to sales - the sales pipeline - and evaluate the activities (tactics) used to build the pipeline.

One tactic that has worked very well for us, and one that I would very much encourage you to use, is to work with non-profits. This tactic is expensive, for you. Non-profits don't have much cash (usually - we'll come back to this point), so cannot pay much or at all for your product. What they can do for you, however, is be early adopters and field testers. This is hugely valuable.

For the non-profit, they get to use the business (or enterprise) version of your system at a much-reduced cost.

Even when you try to give something away for free, you must bear in mind that it still costs something. For a user or group of users in an organisation to adopt your product, they will have to put time and effort into learning how to use it, uploading their data, and dealing with the inevitable bugs that new features always have.

So you will not find it any easier to sell to non-profits than regular customers - this is not 'one weird trick' or a free ride. And your startup will have a moral obligation to follow through and support the non-profit as if they were a paying customer.

Voxgig works with a non-profit called World Speech Day. This organisation focuses on March 15 each year as a day to celebrate young public speakers in over 100 countries around the world, with concurrent events over a 24-hour period. Given that we provide services for public speakers at conferences, this is a natural fit.

It is very important to find a good fit like this if you do decide to work with non-profits in this way.

Larger companies can afford corporate social responsibility schemes that are unrelated to their core business.

You cannot do this in a startup; you don't have the resources, time or focus. But there are many non-profits in many sectors, and if you know your market, you probably already know the ones that would suit your business.

Can non-profits pay you at all? This can be a make-or-break issue, even if the fit is perfect. You have to pay for your staff time, after all. Sometimes the planets can align and a donor organisation will step in to help.

I had the great pleasure to support the CoderDojo initiative (which helps children learn to code) in my last company, and the project was part-financed by their formidable donors.

We did our software development piece at cost, which was what we could manage at the time. Putting together projects like this is part of the startup hustle, so don't be discouraged if your chosen non-profit is unable to pay anything directly. Your project might be just the forward-thinking initiative to get a potential donor over the line.

While working with a non-profit will certainly help on the product development side, and help you iron out bugs and refine your user experience, the real benefit is ultimately to your sales pipeline. Non-profits generate large communities of supporters and volunteers.

By working with a non-profit, you join that community, and benefit from the network. It is vital that you approach this outcome very openly with all parties - everyone understands that a startup is a business and in the business of generating a profit.

The symbiosis of profit and non-profit can only work if you always place the needs of the non-profit first. This is what is required to act in good faith. You are a donor as well, and certain responsibilities come with that.

You should anticipate conflicts of interest, and you should prepare your staff for these by thinking about your company policies for non-profit work.

If you are a technology company, you probably have some experience already in the non-profit sector when it comes to using and supporting open source software. Just as it has become necessary in recent years to have appropriate codes of conduct, and clear intellectual property guidelines for such activities, so too should you define how your startup, and its staff, will behave toward any non-profits that you work with.

The benefits are many, and most of them are intangible. Your staff will feel more aligned with your mission, and you will feel you are making a positive impact on the world beyond mere economics. Your sales pipeline will benefit. But this tactic is not one to enter into lightly, and will require a level of leadership maturity that startups sometimes lack.

Nonetheless, despite the challenges, I do recommend working with non-profits as a very effective way to improve your own business on many levels, and on a human level.

Indo Business