If you know me, or have read this blog, you might guess that I get pulled into all sorts of projects that have to do with somebody else's business or organizational endeavor, particularly in the non-profit world. That's what's fun about being entrepreneurial. And I am always flattered when asked to help on any project, even though I approach things lately with a kind of "careful hand I dole" philosophy, in light of my recent journey. This in relationship to my resources, influence and yes, money, from time to time. While I have never professed to have great knowledge of how non-profit organizations work, I have recently gained perspective on how they struggle to find and maintain sustainability. This is a story of my education on the topic, and the use of common business acumen necessary to gain a perspective, make adjustments and deploy a crisis strategy. Please enjoy...
For several years I have been involved with and supported a myriad of local charities ranging from the MS Society, Trailnet, the Arthritis Foundation, The YMCA, The Boy Scouts, multiple Higher Education and Private High Schools and their functions. I really cannot remember all but there have been many. My connection to all of them?--food, beverage, event management and logistics pertaining to active living and cultural events. I have experience in all that stuff by way of the business that I started back in 2000, Pfoodman.
To come clean on how we got Pfoodman on the map (reference able by assorted business journal articles positioned through google and social media) is to say that it was our shtick to guerrilla market" the company into prominence. It made sense, especially in the early years, for lack of any other means to promote the vision and the brand, Pfoodman. Guerrilla marketing was an early and cheap means of promotion. I first immersed myself in it, then later became an expert. Along side this I embraced the early days of social media to try and get an edge on things. I got started in the mid 90's with planting images and active living results from my competitive cycling days on the Internet, started posting on message boards, relevant information leading back to a commodity. It would be four years before I would introduce Pfoodman to the market place as an on-site catering management business with significant social platforming; wellness, active living and community stewardship.
It wasn't easy, and there really was no road map, template or safety net. For lack of any other storytelling, I used these platforms as a means to get in front of people, to connect to tribes of people with healthier mindsets, like minded people with good jobs at influential business and institutions. I plotted to get my company name and logo next to other significant logos of substance. Businesses like Anheuser Busch, Charter, THF Realty, Emerson, Bank of America (insert big St. Louis blue-blood type companies here). My silver bullet: the in-kind donations of catering for bike rides, walks, runs, races and music events. Since I sell food and wanted to develop relationships in the community as being a community steward, it worked. Food is easy to give away. By giving "real food" away, it was as if we were speaking the language to these groups.
Through the years, and with an unsteady hand of choosing the right organizations to align with, Pfoodman was able to forge deep relationships with significant clients who understand the need to resonate quality, in our case, the "real food" services that helped our clients create their own distinction. A residual take away was the fact that there were indeed individuals and businesses outside of our market that would think of us as "good partners" in community stewardship, because we have always been there for what the community thinks is important. It's one big popularity contest. That's all.
In a perfect world, this sort of marketing would need to have a proven ROI from time time; a measurable advancement of the business with key performance indicators. But its really isn't measurable. Perhaps it is not meant to be, when in the tribal relationship building business. It is a broadcast of goodwill that implants the goodness of the platform within a consumer who may or may not be ever be a customer. It's later, much later, that good things come.
This was the essence of my charitable marketing strategy at Pfoodman and the supporting businesses that we founded, including The Wolf Public House--Its "cause marketing", or "strategic philanthropy" as my blue blood friends call it. It's nothing new.
Please enjoy a quote that I think appropriately captures my experience with this sort of thing. It is probably important to realize that I really didn't have a clue as to where it would take me, nor whether or not I had the money to play in the sandbox...
"I am not sure I want to be called a strategic philanthropist any more than I want to be called broke"--Ralph Pfremmer.