Repairing a Damaged Image

Today I’m going to the NoHomelessKids Lunch to support the ongoing great work of Vision House here in the Seattle area.  For the past 21 years, the Camerers have worked tirelessly to breaking the cycle of homelessness in our community.  They have an amazing track record and donations made to their work can be seen, their facilities visited, you can even gets “hand on” if you are so inclined.  All of these factors give me great confidence when making a donation.

The same is not true for all non-profits.  The popularity – and subsequent scandal surrounding  Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling memoir “Three Cups of Tea” and the head of a $20 million-a-year charity for schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan has become an unfortunate liability.  An article in last month’s Wall Street Journal talks about the fallout  and how it impacts other non-profits.  Many charities, particularly those who do work overseas and in third world countries have suffered unfairly because of Mr. Mortenson’s actions.
What is the reputation of your industry?  You may be an honest dealer or service provider but you still have to deal with the preconceived notions customers – or donors – have about your field.  The more up front you are about those concerns, the better chance you have of earning trust and with it, valued business.

Make a list of negative thoughts customers have about your industry.  Do they think there is always a catch?  Do they expect you to try to sell them more than they need?  Do they think there is no difference between products you offer and those of your competitors?  Once you have this list, you can prepare appropriate responses to customers concerns and objections.

People often fear that giving money to the homeless does little to change circumstances.  It’s not that they don’t want to help, they don’t want to waste their money on programs that don’t work.  Vision House has a 93% success rate in helping families break the cycle of homelessness.  They want you to know your money makes a difference and they put their statistics right on their website.

People who donate like to see their dollars at work.  Vision House gives you opportunities to see, touch and participate to whatever degree you would like.  Their most recent project, Jacob’s Well saw active assistance from countless members of the community and was well-documented on their website, blog and Facebook posts.

What lessons can you learn from both “Three Cups of Tea” and the contrasting story of Vision House?  

First: Perception is Reality.  You may be the exception to the rule in your industry but the perception customers have is still something you have to deal with.

Second:  Be up front in addressing these concerns.  Feature your differences in your advertising, marketing materials, website, blog posts and Facebook posts.

Lastly: Talk openly about the short-comings of your industry with your team members.  Be sure they are well-versed and comfortable discussing the problems and high-lighting how you are different with customers and potential customers.

Customers want reassurances that the trust they place in you with the investment of their money and/or money is well-spent.  Being candid and honest about both problems and solutions goes a long way towards earning their long term business and support.

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