5 essential business development tips for under-resourced not-for-profits and social enterprises

5 essential business development tips for under-resourced not-for-profits and social enterprises

July 12, 2018 Off By Glenn McDonald

Business development and client engagement within a small not-for-profit (NFP) or social enterprise can leave directors, managers, and staff feeling like a circus octopus; juggling all of the balls with all of the arms, trying desperately to stay afloat. Establishing and maintaining a sales pipeline that ensures the future viability of the organisation can often be put perpetually on the ‘back burner’ due to lack of resources. More likely though, is that organisations are unaware how they can get the most ‘bang for buck’ from their business development and client engagement activities.

Below are five simple and effective tips that will help your organisation to establish and maintain a sustainable sales pipeline and client engagement strategy with minimal resources.

Tip 1. Understand your clients and customers

This is crucial to establishing ongoing support for your organisation. Universally, across all industries it is useful to understand clients and potential clients or prospects using the following two metrics:

  1. How valuable, or potentially valuable is the client or prospect’s contribution to your organisation?
  2. How likely are they to purchase from or support your organisation?

This enables you to easily determine where to direct your efforts, and establish a strategic business development and client engagement approach. There may also be additional reasons for pursuing client relationships (eg. alignment of strategic or common interests, sharing resources, etc.) that can be incorporated however, identifying clients by the aforementioned metrics will enable you to pursue the ‘low hanging fruit’ first. Plus, it’s always nice to start the day speaking to those who are supportive of your business, and have the means to support it.

Tip 2. Establish and use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system

Using and maintaining a simple Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system will allow your organisation to centralise and maintain your database of existing contacts and potential clients. Although Microsoft Excel can be useful for keeping track of interactions with a small number of clients, web-based CRMs are so simple and user-friendly now that I would recommend using one to at least store client details and interaction notes. Most CRMs will allow you to import data from your existing spreadsheets or client databases. Some great basic CRM packages that offer free or low-cost options for small organisations and NFPs include Pipedrive, Hubspot, Zoho and Salesforce. Salesforce is commonly regarded as the most functional and comprehensive CRM available and also offers free packages for NFPs but honestly it’s a behemoth and is likely to be overwhelming to new users.

Using a CRM can help to build sustainability into your organisation’s business development activities and client engagement. As many small NFPs have high staff or volunteer turnover, systems that can be accessed and maintained easily by multiple users are crucial to a sustainable sales pipeline. By implementing and actively maintaining a CRM, new staff will always be able to access up-to-date client information and notes pertaining to previous interactions. By ensuring clients experience consistently positive interactions with your organisation, the client will build a relationship with your organisation rather than simply with one individual, which is key to long-term client relationships and sustainable partnerships in the NFP sector.

Tip 3. Know your revenue streams

Having at least a basic understanding of how your organisation generates revenue is crucial to increasing the efficiency of your business development and client engagement activities. It will also enable you to respond to the organisation’s needs strategically, rather than in a purely reactive or ad-hoc manner. Once you are aware of how your organisation generates the majority of its revenue, you will be able to cohesively adapt your marketing, advertising, social media activity, and client engagement in response to this. This may not apply if your organisation is attempting to diversify or expand into new markets although increased understanding of current revenue streams will no doubt assist when trying to plan your expansion into new and unfamiliar markets. Awareness of any outliers (large unusual revenue streams) is also useful as it can enable your organisation to recognise these opportunities in future, and proactively dedicate resources to targeting those opportunities.

Tip 4. Contact clients/partners regularly and keep records

This one sounds straight forward and it is probably something that you are already doing, although adding some more structure and accountability can yield positive results. After understanding your clients, establishing a basic CRM, and becoming aware of your organisation’s revenue streams, you can establish a client call schedule based on this information. This will mean that your efforts are always directed to the most supportive and viable clients and prospects. During interactions with existing clients and prospects, remember to keep track of the following 4 things:

  1. The date and time you called or met
  2. Who you spoke to and their position within the organisation
  3. Any key points of discussion likely to be relevant in future
  4. When you have promised to, or plan to call them again (and set calendar or CRM reminders directly after the call or meeting)

This ensures that you have a clear plan for future communication, and you will have a brief record of any noteworthy information. During future interactions, clients will appreciate your ‘memory’ and appreciate not having to explain themselves again. This is a simple way to increase the professionalism within your organisation, and also to identify and respond to recurring client concerns or requests early.

Tip 5. Make it easy for clients to support your organisation

Many NFPs and social enterprises are so resource-poor that they are simply unable to develop engaging and intuitive client facing materials that facilitate the support of your organisation. This includes things like establishing e-commerce capabilities on your website; making sure that your website and promotional material includes up to date contact details prominently and legibly; using mail automation software to automate regular client/supporter e-mails, or using secure and recognised e-payment systems for donations and subscriptions. Donors and customers will NOT support your organisation if they need to go through three menus, two redirections, and several pages of disclaimers to support or purchase from your organisation. Make it easy for them and they will reward you with their support.


If you promise to call someone, or send them an information package, or send them a link to your social media channels, DO IT! Set a reminder in your new CRM or your calendar and do it. So many supporters of NFPs and social enterprises end up ignored and their money, volunteer hours, or support are never received. Strong follow up and accountability will ensure that your organisation stands out to potential supporters, clients, customers, and partners.

Glenn McDonald is a social researcher and anthropologist specialising in business strategy, culture, and the establishment of sustainable social enterprises that benefit communities and stakeholders alike.