Why sales pitches to non profits dont work

This is a great post by Marc Pitman of The Fundraising Coach Blog. I think it is really worth reading so here it is.

From time to time, I get calls by people that equate “fundraising” with “selling stuff.”

John emailed me recently and gave me permission to post our email dialogue. Here’s the first message I received.

Hello Marc,

I found your blog (and your Linked In profile) and I hope you don’t mind me contacting you directly to ask a question.

I have recently started a business with the hope and anticipation of it being a tool for charities and non-profit organizations to enhance and add to their fund raising opportunities. I have always had a desire to be able to give back to society as much as I can because I have been so blessed in my life. That is the motivation. The business is centered around a consumer product/service as an affinity program. A donation of $50.00 goes to the charity or organization of the consumers choice.

Rather than the product being priced higher in order to accommodate the donation the consumer actually receives a discount. The donation comes directly from my commission which is just about $50.00.

The question that I have is this: I have found it very difficult to get in to organizations. When I do they seem very skeptical because of the many programs and products that have preceded mine and not lived up to the task. Legitimacy is in question. How can an ‘outsider’ like me and my company get in to these organizations and gain their endorsement and help. For an organization that had 1000 people/supporters purchase the product they would receive a $50,000.00 donation.

I want to be able to help, I just don’t quite know how. I am looking for some marketing advice in an industry (philanthropy) that I am not familiar with. Thank you in advance for your consideration and your response.

Best Regards,


My response

Hi John,

Thanks for the email.

May I be frank? As a non-profit employee, offers like this make my skin crawl.

As an entrepreneur, I’d much rather make an incredible amount of money selling something and give the proceeds to charity than try to make a charity become a volunteer sales force.

I’ve been told about everything from calling plans to baskets, MLM’s to beads. I know these people have been really trying to help, to do good with what they had.

I guess it’s in part because I don’t like getting a “pitch.” I tend to purchase things that I already KNOW I have a need for. Not things I need to be convinced that I have a need for.

Does that make sense?

And I’m REALLY protective of my database and my corporate reputation. I don’t give names out. And I don’t want my mailings to be confused with sales.

I also happen to be a purist. I love cultivating donors that give to my organization for the sheer joy of giving, not because they’re getting a premium or anything tangible.

Finally, it’s a bit risky to have donations be contingent on your commission. I’m sure your honest and full of integrity. But it’s just risky for a nonprofit. It’s a leap of faith.

My guess is, I’m pretty similar to those you’ve been approaching. And it’s got to be so frustrating to you because you can see the amazing benefit for the charities.

I’m sure you’ll find some folks that are interested. But, in my humble opinion, I’d focus on becoming really successful at sales and generous in your personal giving.

I really hope that helps,


His reply:

Thanks for the candid response. That helps quite a bit and it is exactly in line with what I have seen. At times I have felt like I had leprosy when discussing it. I’ll have to try something else.

Last year I personally gave over 15 thousand dollars and I thought with something like this I could do so much more. Oh well. Thanks again for your advice and experience.

I’m sharing it for two audiences:

  1. If you’re a marketer, you’ll hopefully see why approaching me is a waste of time. And what many of my colleagues may be feeling. This isn’t meant to be rude. I’m appreciative of your desire to help nonprofits, but I’m really good at helping people ask for money face-to-face. I choose to focus on what I’m really good at.Other people specialize in sales and “-athons.” A simple Google search will lead you to those experts.
  2. If you’re a nonprofit person, please hear John’s heart. In his response, it’s easy to see John’s disappointment and heartfelt intent to promote good.I think it’s important to remember that “for profit” isn’t synonymous with “bad.” Plenty of for-profit people want to do good. And we need to remember that.

    Feel free to be firm if you’re not interested in doing “sales,” but please be kind.

What do you think? Am I on to something or out in left field? Use the comments to sound off!


4 thoughts on “Why sales pitches to non profits dont work

  1. Thanks for your kind words!

    Let me know if you get comments too.


  2. great article again thx.!

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