The Choices You Want Them to Make

Do you want the berry or the banana yogurt?  Do you want to use the green or the pink spoon?  What would you like to wear today…blue jean shorts and a t-shirt or this sundress?  This is how a typical day at my house begins with my two year-old daughter.  Sounds easy and peaceful…right?!  Well, it took us a little while to get here.

A few months back, we entered the “terrible 2s”.  I knew we were there when she threw a temper-tantrum for about 90 minutes while at the grocery store for no reason (or so I thought).  Kicking, screaming, throwing groceries out of the cart.  I walked outside with her, sang her favorite songs, offered snacks and even resorted to the (yes) iPhone apps to shift her focus.  I refused to give in and just leave, as I didn’t want her to think she could just cry and get her way.  Quite frankly, that was the only 90 minutes I had to buy groceries over the next few days.  So, I stuck it out.  Strangers asking me if my child was OK, store employees offering her stickers and lollipops just to appease her, and my favorite part of it all…almost breaking the sliding doors as I raced out of the store in total embarrassment.

After a brief meltdown of my own that evening, I asked a friend for some advice.  She pointed me toward a very popular book about toddler behavior.  One specific note stood out to me.  It pointed out that throughout their day, toddlers are constantly being told what to do, how to do it and when.  If you think about it, no one really likes that!  The book suggested offering your toddler a few choices throughout the day to empower them, and make them feel like they are in control of certain parts of their day.  The caveat:  make sure those choices you offer are choices you want them to make.  I don’t really care if my daughter eats banana or berry yogurt, I’m only concerned that she’s eating Greek yogurt filled with probiotics.  It doesn’t matter to me whether she chooses the pink or green spoon, just as long as she uses one.  As for the clothes, I know there will come a day where she will not want to wear anything I have picked out for her, but for now my method is working!

This is also true of most negotiations I have with Fortune 500 companies on behalf of my non-profit clients.  They like to have ownership of an idea or promotion.  They know what is best for their brand, and have a proven strategy that works to drive sales, customer acquisition or consumer engagement.  As a non-profit partner, how do you navigate this sometimes rigid discussion to create the type of partnership your organization needs?  How do you guide them into supporting you through the most appropriate channels that speak to your core donor base?

Give them choices you want them to make!

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Part of being able to define choices for someone is having a clear understanding of your ultimate goal.  What are your must-haves?  Once you clearly map these out for yourself, you can better offer routes to the final destination for your potential corporate partner.  There is more than one way to…[insert your own cliche here].

Let’s work through an example.  Your organization’s mission is to provide meals to the hungry.  Through market and donor research you know your constituents prefer to donate when they can put a tangible value on their donation.  Instead of just rounding up their purchase to the nearest $1 at register to put a drop in the bucket, they prefer to be asked if they want to donate a complete meal to someone in need — something they can relate to and feel as if they are actually making a difference.

In this scenario, you are looking for a consumer-packaged goods partner to help you facilitate this type of consumer engagement.  In researching the corporation, you understand they are focusing a lot of marketing dollars around a new social media initiative, still love to offer coupons to drive sales and have a new celebrity spokesperson that speaks to your donor base.  They also have a sponsorship with a major sports team, a mobile sampling tour and like to donate product to other non-profit organizations.   How do you filter all of this information to keep the conversation on-mission and create the choices you want them to make?

1. Include Must-Haves:  Identify and incorporate your must-haves in the choices you offer the potential partner.

In this case, perhaps your must-haves are:

1. Must provide 5000 meals to the hungry in one month

2. Must incorporate “full-meal” tangible donation component

2. This or That?:  Avoid trying to offer the partner anything that might work for them.  Instead, work through two solid options that accomplish your goal and speak to their current areas of spending.  This conversation will inevitably evolve into something beyond what’s in your paper presentation, but should begin with two clear and concise concepts that will help steer the conversation down a path and not in a circle.

3. Define the Framework. Let the Details Flow.:  When identifying your choices, be careful not to over-define them.  You could put yourself at risk of the partner feeling like there is nothing left to contribute…a lack of empowerment.  My two-year old might be given the choice of wearing a sundress or a t-shirt and shorts.  From there, she can choose to accessorize that outfit how she sees fit.  If you have included your must-haves in the choices offered, let the details flow and empower your potential partner to “accessorize” the partnership.

With the knowledge that your target donor base is 18-34 years-old looking to save money while giving back, in our given scenario you might offer:

Choice One:  a social media campaign that offers downloadable coupons based on action

Choice Two:  celebrity-driven campaign that incentivizes “meal” donations through online engagement

Ultimately, you don’t really care which one they choose, as long as it delivers on your goal to give 5,000 meals to the hungry through a tangible donation transaction.  But, at least you’ve set your parameters with key must-haves, and directed the conversation to support your mission and their business goals.

Have you mastered defining the choices you want someone to take – either in business or in life?

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