Why I Turned My Back on a Compelling, Well-Paid Nonprofit Marketing Gig

Why I Turned My Back on a Compelling, Well-Paid Nonprofit Marketing GigI love getting calls out of the blue — from Getting Attention readers, peers I've never met and, of course, prospective clients. So I was pleased as punch to hear from the communications director at a New York City nonprofit.

He (let's call him Eddy) had found me via a Google search and wanted to discuss a branding project up for grabs. Eddy outlined the project specs which really grabbed me: The organization had evolved dramatically since its founding near the turn of the 20th century, is now focused more broadly than its original immigrant audiences and offers a wide range of programming; but is perceived as being what it always was. Now the leadership had identified the design and launch of a new organizational brand as a springboard to the success of the pending capital campaign (obviously oriented to funding the organization's future, not its past).

This is just the kind of challenge I love to take on; complex, a puzzle, a moment of organizational change and a leadership corps truly supportive of the work at hand. But I didn't submit a proposal for the work. Here's why:

  • Eddy rushed through our conversations, clearly not wanting to invest time in talking me through the organization's needs and preferences, and any clear barriers to success.
    • My understanding of these factors is critical to shaping the right approach, and a persuasive proposal.
    • Most immediately, the gap in understanding makes it difficult for me to accurate size the job.
    • And, if a prospective client isn't willing to spend the time to discuss these vital issues with me, I get the sense that he isn't going provide the vital in-house insights prerequisite to project success.
  • When asked, Eddy said he planned to solicit seven to 10 proposals for the project.
    • Through hard experience, I’ve learned that when prospective clients solicit a large number (e.g. more than four or five) proposals, they aren’t sure what they’re looking for. This organization falls squarely into the "don't know what we want so we'll throw out a hook and see what bites" category.
    • In addition, evaluating proposals for strategic work is time-consuming. It's almost impossible to give more than five proposals their due in has to be an exhaustingly thorough proposal review process.
    • Not to mention that the probability of getting the work is so low.
  • In most cases, it’s the big shops willing to crank out a proposal in this context, and it's usually a boilerplate
    • For a small firm like Nancy Schwartz & Company, where clients get senior-level expertise across the board, crafting a proposal is a huge investment. We want to make that investment for the right projects when pay off is a real possibility, but when it's not… 
    • The more insight we get from you up front, the better prepared we are to show you that we're a good fit with your marketing needs, or not.

P.S. Get more guidance on working effective with your nonprofit marketing consultant or firm: Read How to Write a Marketing RFP that Gets the Best Consultant or Firm to Deliver Everything You Need – On Time and on Budget.

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Nancy Schwartz on October 11, 2007 in Jobs and Hiring, Nonprofit Communications, People | 1 comment
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  • Roxanne Darling

    I could relate to your position very much. I’ll add that based on our company’s experience, they will get bids in the range of X to as much as 6X. It’s a very confusing situation for a client to try to understand the value being offered across such a wide range.
    I think the best value comes when both companies see eye to eye, in a cultural sort of way. Sure, any of us could sit on the sidelines and critique something. But at the end of the day, this stuff is not easy. Working with people where there is mutual like and respect, adds a whole other value. And so the results are less than perfect? If the client is happy and it’s better than they had, then there’s nothing to complain about IMO.

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