Go to the Dogs with Style

YOUR PROFITABLE NONPROFIT- KAREN EBER DAVIS- AUGUST 2012

“When the match is right, you don’t even know they are in the restaurant.” I was having a casual conversation with a staff member from Southeastern Guide Dogs. “If you do notice,” he continued, “you observe a working, well-behaved animal.”

You’re reading “Your Profitable Nonprofit,” a column for nonprofit leaders such as you, which explores remarkable ideas that leading nonprofit organizations use to increase income, decrease costs, or just make their organizations better. Each column shares a successful idea, plus ways to adapt it. Today, we consider the strategy behind the dog training classes offered by Southeastern. By looking at this earned income opportunity, you will better understand how to use your best skills to earn money and grow your brand.

If you own a dog, chances are strong that you would like your dog to behave in public, like a guide dog. When these dogs are working, they don’t bark at random strangers, chase after squirrels, or strain at their leashes to sniff people. Taking advantage of their expertise, Southeastern offers a set of six dog-training classes to the public. They are lead by their exceptional trainers in a group setting. The fee is $150. Classes regularly sell out.

So…What is the Strategy? The key strategy behind the classes is to identity a skill from your work, share it with the public, and use that skill to fund more mission. Jennifer A. Bement, Public Relations Specialist from Southeastern shares, “Our dogs go through approximately two years of training to be the well-behaved working dogs they are.  Our trainers are constantly asked about our training programs, so it seemed only natural we would share the knowledge with the general public.” To adapt this strategy to your circumstances, identify the skills you have that others can benefit from or need. What skill do you have that could help others?  What is it worth?

Who? Southeastern successfully focused on dog owners. The concept is to find a group of interested people who need your skills. Like Southeastern, you might go directly to consumers. Or, you might select other groups including for-profits, foundations, government agencies and the like. As you explore possibilities, go beyond the first obvious answer. Let “who” bubble a bit.

How? Where? To identify how you might share the skill. For instance, Southeastern chose Saturday morning puppy kindergarten and Tuesday evening basic obedience classes at its storefront location. Like Southeastern, you might choose a series of classes, or a one-time seminar or individual counseling. You might choose your storefront or another venue. The array of possibilities is broad. To move forward here, assemble a small group to brainstorm different educational experiences and locations. Then, prioritize what to try first.

Possible Content? Southeastern’s strategy did not stop with only one class series. Over time it developed two levels of obedience classes (basic and intermediate), plus a class called Cool Tricks for Cool Dogs as well as one class that leads to a certificate. To adopt this strategy you will need to identify the content to offer. Content, too, can be approached from a variety of aspects. Do you want to reach beginners with their first puppies? Or, do you want to help struggling dog owners? Or, would it make sense to try a panel of vets for a question-and-answer session? Which area serves the greatest need? Which content area do people say they want? The best options will be built on your personnel’s interests and strengths. If a potential presenter loves old dogs and has a wonderful way to teach about it, you will want to take advantage of this gift.  Long-term, the skills of the presenter and content are what will make an educational event a success. Great classes create their own market buzz.

Details? Details include issues such as when to begin and how much to charge.  While you can do extensive research on this, you might not. Last month, I had lunch with Wit Ostrenko, President and CEO with the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Tampa. Each year, MOSI develops multiple earned revenue ventures. It determines price and details with a quick discussion. Contrary to popular wisdom, you will want to prefer quick, cheap pilots to test market interest instead of developing business plans that takes weeks but never answer the critical question. The question is: “Will enough people buy this to make it worthwhile?”

What About You? What skills can your nonprofit share? For nonprofit leaders, Southeastern, provides an excellent example of exporting an exceptional skill to provide value to the community. When well done, offering an exceptional educational opportunity will give you yet another chance to get your name out to the community, provide solid income, and sometime during the event, allow you to invite participants to do more with your nonprofit.

Next month, in Your Profitable Nonprofit, we explore how a group saw a market niche to serve families in the armed forces. By reading it, you will learn about how to fund your cause by responding to market needs.