November 17, 2016

Selling Social Change Resources

Often nonprofits focus their efforts on creating services that they think are innovative or effective, and then express surprise when those services go begging for participants. It’s time for nonprofits to develop a more sales-driven approach to social change.

By: Taz Hussein, Matt Plummer

Have you struggled with getting beneficiaries in the door? You’re not alone. Among nonprofits responding to a Bridgespan Group survey, 70 percent reported shortfalls in program participation, and half said that matters have gotten worse over the past five years. While nonprofits have excelled in recent years at building programs that work, they have paid little attention to the demand side of the equation. “Selling Social Change”  describes the challenges that constrain demand and proposes ways to overcome them. (The associated worksheets below will help get you started.) 

Looking at groundbreaking research and literature, probing practical examples, and exploring new, innovative approaches to design, the authors highlight three distinct strategies that can help you to close the demand gap:

  1. Design services or programs for spreadability
  2. Target a group that is most likely to participate
  3. Build sales and marketing capability

Breakthrough results never come easily, but they may never come at all unless nonprofits and funders get comfortable with the idea that selling social change is vital to success.

Learn how in “Selling Social Change”

Selling Social Change Worksheets

If "Selling Social Change" inspires you to work harder to attract more participants to your programs, the PDF worksheets below will help you get from inspiration to action. The first worksheet walks you through steps to think about generating demand, and it lays the groundwork for the three that follow: making programs “spreadable,” targeting early adopters, and investing in a sales force. The worksheets will help you close the gap between need and demand.

How Some Nonprofits Build Sales Teams on a Budget

By Matt Plummer and Vlad Nedelea

BELLErrant belief that if a nonprofit "builds it, they will come" means social sector programs and services often fail to reach those people in most need. To remedy this, a number of nonprofits like BELL (photo right) are deploying sales teams to promote their work—and they’re doing it in ways that aren’t breaking their budgets. Read more on  >>


Join the Conversation

Share comments on Use #sellingsocialchange to follow and join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

You can also register to view the Stanford Social Innovation Review webinar, Selling Social Change, which took place on Dec. 15, 2016. The registration fee is $55 and allows unlimited viewings of the recorded session. Click here to learn more >>

Featured Resources
These resources mentioned in "Selling Social Change" can help you build a sales-driven mindset.
Diffusion of Innovations, by Everett Rogers: Seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate innovations spread.
Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir: Describes the "scarcity mindset" that drives many poor individuals to focus on the now and not the future. A human-centered-design firm that specializes in helping nonprofits to design services and products tailored toward beneficiaries' needs.
ideas42: A behavioral science firm that focuses on developing scalable solutions to social problems.
The Populist Agency: A strategic marketing firm that helps nonprofits communicate with and engage potential participants.

Creative Commons License logo
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license are available in our Terms and Conditions.