Giving Compass' Take:

• The Bridgespan Group interviewed 10 nonprofit organizations about their experiences in hiring sales teams. Most of them saw success when their sales team consisted of members with a nonprofit background rather than for-profit sales experience. 

•  Could hiring a mission-oriented sales team over a profit-oriented team benefit other types of organizations? 

• Digital teams in nonprofit organizations also find success under specific circumstances. 

“Nonprofit” and “sales” are two words that rarely appear in the same sentence. But that’s changing—and for good reason. A growing number of nonprofits are discovering that without a sales team, their programs struggle to reach large numbers of intended beneficiaries.

Yet, some nonprofits have ventured into sales. To understand how they are faring, we interviewed leaders of 10 organizations that have put salespeople on the payroll. Half have done so in the past five years, an indicator of the nascent nature of this approach.

They employed a variety of salesforce models. But all had prioritized developing a focused sales strategy to reach more people with their programs. Across the 10 organizations, three common denominators surfaced that helped each to keep a lid on the expense of getting started:

  • they prioritized hiring people with program knowledge over those with professional sales experience;
  • they relied on intrinsic motivation to drive sales rather than bonuses;
  • several cultivated relationships for business referrals rather than investing in cold-calling

Experience counts in sales. But sometimes intimate knowledge of a nonprofit’s program trumps a professional sales background. For this reason, Nurse Family Partnership (NFP), chose to hire program alumni as part of its sales team.Benny Samuels, NFP’s chief marketing and communications officer, told us that alumni can “naturally tell the story of the benefits of the program.” The value of insider knowledge also led NFP to hire sales people with nonprofit experience in community health.

Sales bonuses, standard practice in the private sector, haven’t taken root among those we interviewed. In fact, bonuses struck some nonprofit leaders as a cultural mismatch for a sector where people are motivated by mission, not by money.

Read the full article about sales teams in non-profits by Matt Plummer, Vlad Nedelea at The Bridgespan Group.