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What Business Can Learn from Nonprofit
Organizations about Inspiring Customers
Don't just please customers, inspire them.
by Terry Barber (May 18, 2009)
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 brands:
"To inspire and nurture the human spirit" ...
"Your potential, our passion" ... "To improve the
lives of the world’s consumers – now and for generations to
come" ... "To contribute 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
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
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
1. 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 the best." ... "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 uncover very quickly whether you have the
capacity to be inspiring or not.
2. To inspire the consumer, you must show genuine
appreciation for her business. Nonprofit 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 $100.00 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!
Loyalty programs 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,
Conversely, expressing genuine appreciation creates a lifelong
relationship. Imagine how a customer would feel if he received a
voice mail 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."
3. 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 and/or tap into platforms for
connecting people in and around your mission.
4. 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
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 place.
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 the same.
(Note: Terry Barber is the Chief Inspirator for Grizzard
Communication Group. He primarily serves the non-profit healthcare
segment as well as colleges and universities in the subject area of
philanthropic branding. Some of the organizations he consults with
include Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Duke Cancer
Center, University of North Carolina's Lindberger Comprehensive
Cancer Center, and The Huntsman Cancer Center of Salt Lake, Utah.
Barber is a popular speaker for corporate training and events, and
an inspirational resource to the nonprofit community and is known in
many circles as the Chief Inspirational Officer.
The Inspiration Factor can be purchased from www.amazon.com
The website is www.inspirationblvd.com.
(Note: To read previous Business-Wise columns, click on
the titles in the right-hand column.)