Craggy Peak Research
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Better marketing.

Persona

A persona is a profile of a hypothetical customer. The purpose of a persona is to make it easier to see a situation from the customer's perspective. Data can tell us what that perspective is, but it's stories that help make it feel real. In this case, we were doing a project for some nonprofits that were hoping to get more support from local small businesses. So, the "customers" were these small businesses. To help the nonprofits improve their strategy, we created the persona described below. We are sharing the full report, not just the persona, so you can get a sense of how we typically communicate our recommendations to clients.

Overview

This document provides a hypothetical example of what a successful strategic alliance between a nonprofit and a business might look like. It is written from the perspective of the business, and emphasizes how the alliance addresses business needs. This is because we are working from a marketing perspective, and the starting point of effective marketing is understanding the needs of the customer, from their perspective. What will allow you to make a compelling proposal to a business is having a deep understanding of their needs, and recognizing ways in which your own organization can help meet those needs.

Note that this is a fundamentally different approach from traditional fundraising. In typical fundraising, it is common for a nonprofit to go to a business, describe the nonprofit’s needs, and ask if the business can help. This is the exact opposite – you are going to the business, talking about the business’ needs, and offering to help them.

We are not suggesting that one approach is necessarily better than the other. They are different, and have different strengths and limitations. The obvious advantage of the approach described here is that businesses are more likely to agree to an arrangement that benefits them than one that doesn’t. The obvious disadvantage is that you need to actually deliver those benefits, while ensuring that the nonprofit gets what it needs as well. Doing that well is a lot more complicated than just asking if someone can write a check. However, a nonprofit that develops the capacity to build such strategic alliances can reap significant benefits, not only because it’s easier to get businesses to say yes, but also because it allows you to tap into a whole range of resources for fulfilling your mission that you don’t get access to when the relationship is just a one-way transfer of cash from the business to the nonprofit. With that, we turn to the example.

Background

Acme Art Supply is a 40-year-old business located in downtown Elm City. Early in their history they sold art supplies to everyone from parents of kindergarteners to avid hobbyists to professional artists. However, over time they have seen steadily increasing competition, first from large chain stores like Joann Fabrics and Michaels, and more recently from e-tailers. Acme’s market share has shrunk dramatically, and they now primarily serve a niche market of what might be called serious amateurs. Currently their typical customer is between 50 and 70, white, and affluent. Based on informal inquiries by store staff, their main reason for coming to Acme is to have a chance to talk with store staff or other customers about art in general or their personal projects in particular, an experience that is difficult to obtain at chain stores or on-line. Although these customers are loyal, they are getting older, and it’s unclear whether Millenials and Gen-Zers will feel the same draw of a physical gathering place. In addition, this is a small market, and presents limited opportunities for growth. Although some staff members have expressed concern, for many years the previous owner showed little interest in changing course. However, two years ago that owner retired and sold the store to the current owner, Angie. Angie immediately started taking stock of where the business was at and developing a strategy for long-term success.

New Strategy

After discussion with store staff and consultation with other local businesses, Angie concluded that one competitive advantage they have relative to chains and e-tailers is that they are local and have a long history in the community. On the other hand, she also concluded that compared to other local businesses, they aren’t very active in the community. In particular, they can’t point to any direct ways that shopping at Acme benefits the community beyond the fact that the owner lives in town.

Angie also considered what new customers she would like to reach. She knows that kids are major users of art supplies, and also that in the past parents of young children made up a substantial portion of Acme’s customer base. She decided to pursue a marketing campaign aimed at this audience, built around the idea that Acme is a local business.

As an initial step in this direction, Angie decided to make a donation to a local organization. She identified the following criteria for an optimal organization to donate to:

Angie identified an organization called Nellie’s Nest that seemed like a good fit for her goals. They provide a place to gather after school for kids who otherwise would have no safe place to go. There is a range of activities that kids can participate in, including art two days a week. Thus, the program connects to art, kids, and the idea of home.

Early Partnership

Angie reached out to Jorge, the program director at Nellie’s Nest. She offered to make a donation of art supplies to Nellie’s Nest in exchange for receiving some artwork created by the kids that they could post in their store. Jorge accepted this offer, and it was agreed that Angie would come pick up the art one month after the donation.

When it was time to pick up the art, Angie decided to come on one of the art days to watch the kids for a while. She made several observations:

Based on these observations, Angie realized that if the relationship with Nellie’s Nest was going to yield the benefits she was hoping for, it would need some adjustments. The artwork to hang up in the store was nice – once customers were in the store. But it wasn’t going to get them in the door in the first place. What she really wanted was to build Acme’s reputation as a community-minded business. Furthermore, she realized that if she was going to be successful in expanding Acme’s customer base to include kids, she needed a better understanding of what kids want.

Evolution

Angie called up Jorge to discuss her thoughts and come up with ideas for improvements. Jorge said that in terms of benefitting Nellie’s Nest, their biggest need was usually people. They have a very small paid staff, and rely heavily on volunteers to run their programs. He noted that volunteering can be good PR for a business. However, if Angie wanted to go that route, he requested that it be more than coming 2-3 times for some photo ops, as that wasn’t fair to the kids. Angie felt that volunteering would be a worthwhile investment as in addition to the PR, she would learn more about what kids like and want in art. She agreed to do 10 hours of volunteering over the next month and then evaluate again.

To learn as much as she could from these visits, Angie decided to systematically vary what she did each time. Her first visit, she just did her own art alongside the kids, using a few supplies she brought from the store. She also asked some of the kids if they would tell her about their own pictures. The next time she brought a book with photos of many different famous works of art. She asked the kids which paintings they liked best. For the abstract paintings, she asked the kids what they saw. On her third visit, she would ask a kid to pick an emotion, and then try to make an abstract picture depicting that emotion.

At the end of the month, Angie evaluated how things had gone:

Based on these observations, Angie decided to expand the volunteering to include her 7 staff members in addition to herself. Specifically, she would give each staff member 2 paid hours per month for volunteering at Nellie’s Nest. Angie believed this would be a worthwhile investment because it would help:

Things to Note