Becoming a Strategic Partner
How one client multiplied the value of his gift
The following account is a true story based on a client’s experience with Excellence in Giving. Identifying details have been changed to protect anonymity.
As they grow, non-profits deal with complex strategy questions and difficult resource allocation decisions. Management struggles to define strategies to effectively deliver its products or services. The need to manage the demands of multiple constituencies make decisions even more complex. As a result, non-profits often grow haphazardly. They lose sight of primary goals and spread themselves too thin. They fail to attract the funding necessary to prosper because they are unable to articulate a credible long-term plan to achieve their vision.
Christian Books Publishing (CBP) was grappling with many of these issues when they caught the attention of Tom, an Excellence in Giving client in the Midwest. Tom was impressed with one of their educational curriculum product lines. It had been in the market for over a year but had gained less than 0.5-percent market-share among similar products. He believed that the curriculum had the potential to compete with the current market leader. But he believed that the management team lacked a credible plan and would not be able to execute their marketing efforts.
Tom hired Excellence in Giving and challenged us to help CBP’s management sharpen its vision, evaluate opportunities, refine marketing strategies, and create a growth plan that would not only launch the curriculum product line but also serve to attract funding from major donors.
Our work process was designed to bring clarity to CBP’s vision for the educational curriculum and set measurable goals. Specific marketing tactics would be developed to meet the performance objectives and a financial plan would be designed to fund these ideas.
Our first step was to assemble current facts about the product and the marketplace and determine where CBP should go. We met with the publisher's management team for a brainstorming session to understand their vision for the curriculum. It was important that the CBP team have complete ownership of the vision from the beginning. We asked defining questions -- What did CBP consider to be a “success”? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum product compared to competitors’ products? What opportunities existed to expand their reach and how should they be prioritized? What other products could be created to enhance the attractiveness of the curriculum? This two-day session resulted in a very specific statement from CBP’s management about what they hoped to achieve for the educational curriculum product line. A specific audience was targeted and numerical objectives and performance milestones were set for the next five years.
Next, our team created 17 tactics using a top-down approach we called “Follow the Teacher.” We had discovered that the current curriculum's small, but loyal following was found mainly among leaders in the Christian community who placed a high value on accuracy and readability. Many were well regarded pastors, non-profit leaders and authors. It was clear from Excellence in Giving’s own research that the market for curriculum products was oversaturated. End-users would not be motivated to purchase CBP’s curriculum unless it was presented by people in authority as “the best of the breed.”
CBP clearly would need to rely heavily on the credibility of its endorsers. Therefore, the central strategy became to work through these key influencers to convey the quality of the educational curriculum and create demand in their circles of influence. We worked closely with the CBP management team to prioritize these ideas based on their potential to generate sales at a reasonable cost and attractiveness to potential funders.
Finally, we engaged the CBP management team to study the marketplace and determine an appropriate product mix. Some consumers would never adopt the educational curriculum unless it was available in specific formats. By developing different versions of the curriculum, CBP would be able to meet more needs and gain broader acceptance. The team assigned costs to each product over five years and prioritized their development and release based on how it would impact the original objectives.
The resulting business plan laid out a clear path for a five-year period, the first phase of a 30-year vision for market leadership of the curriculum. While the results of the plan will not be known for several years, CBP is already making important progress towards its goals:
- To align its structure to support the new programs, Christian Books created a brand manager position to implement these tactics and be responsible for meeting the objectives.
- The CBP management team is developing a central database to track usage of the curriculum across each program. This database will provide an internal capability to collect and assess relevant data. This data is also critical to selectively market new line extensions and brand initiatives to interested publics.
- The first phase of the curriculum launch will cost nearly $12 million. The business plan called for a fundraising strategy that would leverage the strong support the curriculum had received from authoritative Christian leaders. Several of these leaders had already offered their influence to support the expansion of the curriculum. Christian Books has organized roadshows to present the product line to leaders in various cities.
Thoughtful funders like Tom can serve as catalysts to improve non-profit performance. They see high impact opportunities that need intellectual capital as well as financial capital. By hiring Excellence in Giving to build capacity at Christian Books Publishing, Tom multiplied his gift. He funded the creation of a growth strategy that will produce measurable impact for many years to come. He became a strategic partner.