Nonprofits, by definition, aren't driven by the need to generate quarterly or yearly surpluses like for-profits, or to keep stock prices up, but they do have to pay the bills and, ideally, bank money if they're to have a vibrant future.

Many nonprofits must keep diverse revenue streams healthy: earned income from sales of products and services; contributed income from individual donors, foundations, the government, and corporations; and funds generated through sponsorships and partnerships.

To be successful in each (and all) of those endeavors, nonprofits have had to develop approaches and skills that for-profits can learn from to improve their competitive position, their customer relations, and their long-term health and value.

1. Connect on a deeper level

A nonprofit's mission and vision give people a reason to engage with an organization and to believe in it. Successful nonprofit value propositions go beyond fulfilling daily tactical needs; they fulfill emotional ones. That connection, when nurtured and sustained, engenders loyalty, creates advocates and ambassadors, and, when needed, provides some margin for forgiveness if things go awry. Customers, participants, board members, donors, sponsors feel they are part of a shared enterprise.

For a business, forging this sort of deeper connection can add value both to offerings and to the enterprise, provide differentiation, and move offerings further away from being evaluated as a commodity. Price is less of an issue if a customer or prospect believes in an organization's mission, identifies with what its brand "means," or feels included in a promulgated culture. Big companies like Apple and Starbucks connect in these ways; loyal customers feel that these brands enhance, or at least align, with their "personal brands."

Forty years ago, Tom's of Maine brought out toothpaste that people could believe in, and their user-advocates became a huge unpaid sales force. More current, the New York Times, an organization that was historically fueled by single-paper sales, subscriptions, and advertising revenue, now earns money from events that carry its imprimatur—and, importantly, from contributions from those who believe the value of the Times (particularly in these times) should be made available to those who would otherwise not have access.

2. Focus on relationships, not transactions

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image of Roger Sametz

Roger Sametz is president and CEO of Sametz Blackstone Associates, a Boston-based brand consultancy that integrates brand, editorial, and digital strategy with design and digital media. Sametz Blackstone collaborates with a wide range of academic, cultural, community-focused, and corporate clients.

LinkedIn: Roger Sametz