Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 3: Serve Clients Eager to Pay for what you do (part 3 of 4)

This is the third-and-two-thirds post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.

Rule 3: Serve Clients Eager to Pay for what you do (part 3)

In a nutshell, Seth says that if someone isn’t eager to pay, they’re not your client. You get to pick. So work for people eager to pay.

Eager to pay, donors, and two-sided markets

It’s often the case for non-profits that the people who pay for what you do aren’t the people who benefit directly from it. The client always pays, of course (see part 1), but someone else is also providing some of the cash you need to operate.

There are two risks here – the first is that you make an excellent product that your donors love, but that your clients aren’t willing to ‘buy’. This happens when you allow yourself to become accountable to donors wishes (and possibly whims) first, rather than being faithful to your clients’ needs, and what works for them. It’s easy to slip into this when you’re short of cash and start serving donors who are not-quite-eager to pay for what you do, but happy enough to pay for something different but similar – so you drift, and compromise, and end up being pulled in all directions, wasting time and money and pleasing no-one.  See also Rule 1: Real Work for Clients First.

The second risk is when donors are eager to pay for part of what you do – usually the last-mile, bit that happens on the ground part – the impact – but refuse to pay for overheads or administration – the delivery.

Yes, you are ‘selling’ your impact, and you want to be efficient – but you must sell your real work as it is, which probably involves an office. Educate potential donors about what it takes to do your work well, and to work for the long term towards significant and lasting change. Explain to donors who want cool-sounding statements about their impact (‘100% of my donation went towards food that appeared magically and for free in front of hungry children’) that of course you have administrative costs – including your crappy office – and that without them, there would be no program.

Be as clear and as real as you can about everything you do, and why, and find those donors who like you, and like your work, and trust you, and are eager to pay to be a part of it.

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