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Cause Related Marketing And The Strategy Challenge

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This post was inspired by the Morgan Stanley Strategy Challenge at http://www.morganstanley.com/strategychallenge/index.html

charity_eventI’ve talked many times about how I opened up each of my four offices using the same method, canvassing business neighborhoods and making cold calls on unsuspecting prospects. It was hard laborious work, but it worked.

When I began in Cartersville, I didn’t have any money, by the time I got to Wilmington, and was on my fourth practice, my cash flow was pretty decent from the notes I carried on the sale of my previous work, but I didn’t want to deviate from a model that was working.

However, it was something that could not be sustained forever.

For one thing, it was arduous, tiring, monotonous and exhausting. Did I mention it was arduous, tiring, monotonous and exhausting? You get the idea, I’m sure. Did I say it was arduous and tiring? Or, monotonous and exhausting? Have I also told you I am lazy, and like to find more productive methods, that require less effort?

Canvassing the street for new accounting clients is hard, it's arduous, it's tiring and it's monotonous. Click To Tweet

Well, one of the things I stumbled in to was providing services to nonprofit organizations. I can’t say I originally went after the business, I sort of stumbled into one small Chamber of Commerce, and from there, things just grew.

The back story is that at that time (this was the late 1980’s), nonprofits were not required to file a 990 unless they had over $25,000 in revenue. And, when I got this account, they had not filed a return in years. At first I figured that was no problem, as there was a staff of only one full-time person and one part-time person. And, the income from membership dues was less than $20,000.

However, and this is a big however, this small chamber sponsored an annual fishing tournament, and while I don’t remember the annual revenue, I do remember the net profit, after promotion and awarding of prizes, from the tournament, was over $40,000, which was used to fund all of their programs.

This small nonprofit had been generating this sizeable income for at least a decade, without filing a tax return. Click To Tweet

Of course I called the previous accountant, a local CPA (I was an EA at the time), who assured me that they had not been required to file because their revenue from dues was way below the annual requirement for filing a return. The CPA misunderstood the law of the day, with the result that returns, taxes and penaties were past due.

Seems the organization had a problem, and I had to solve it. But first, I had to advise the board of their situation, and that they were facing taxes and penalties that could very easily bankrupt them.

Needless to say, the board was not a group of happy campers, and immediately went into denial. Even going so far as to claim that the IRS would not shut them down, and if they did, they could just as easily re-form, as a new organization and take up where they left off.

And, the news just got worse.

And, of course I had to advise them that yes, the IRS could shut them down, and yes, they could re-form, but everything would be a mess for awhile, and any cash flow they had was at risk. Especially the cash from the upcoming fishing tournament.

After much ruminating, gnashing of teeth and rending of raiments, I was able to hold out a glimmer of hope. I would seek an abatement of penalties based on their reliance on the advice of a paid preparer.

It worked. They skated on $30,000 in penalties, and were able to reduce income taxes to a fraction of what they had been expecting through a proper allocation of revenues to programs within their mandate.

Interestingly, as soon as this small fracas was settled, I received a couple of calls from other nonprofits on that small island, both wanting to be set up with proper accounting systems. Having bumbled my way through my first set of nonprofit accounting books, it seemed I had to learn a bit more, and set up a system for handling multiple organizations.

From these three existing organizations, I was able to help set up two more organizations, starting with the filing of their 1023 and their first 990.

By solving a major problem at one small nonprofit, the word spread and I soon had four more nonprofit clients. Click To Tweet

I would have been happy with that. Heck, they weren’t giant organizations, and I wasn’t raking in the dough from them, but it was fun going to the meetings, and being a part of all the activities. I especially like the festival of lights that the chamber sponsored each Christmas with the parade of boats. (However, being 6’9” made it crowded in the limo they carried us around in the judge the lights. Yeah, I’m 6’9”.)

But, the interesting thing is that it seemed like that at each monthly meeting I would wind up in a conversation with one of the member about what I did, and what my credential, Enrolled Agent, was all about, and would I be available to drop by their bar, grill, tackle shop, motel or whatever, and talk to them about their situation.

It was a bonanza, and I had pretty much let it slip out of my mind until I recently discovered the Morgan Stanley Challenge, which has apparently been ongoing for seven years in the USA and now two years in the UK.

For the challenge, Morgan Stanley sends some of their best talent to various nonprofit organizations to solve their critical strategic challenges and help them more effectively deliver on their missions.

This project assigns the firm’s top-performing employees to an eight-week pro bono consulting project where they are charged with creating concrete deliverables that will help nonprofits’ expand their impact in the communities they serve.

By working with local nonprofits, you are easily able to network with owners and decision makers in your local… Click To Tweet

The benefits to the nonprofits, in addition to merely receiving pro bono strategic consulting on a mission-critical strategic issue that will help them increase their impact, it also deepens and strengthens the relationship these nonprofits have with Morgan Stanley and its employees. It also helps Morgan Stanley network with other organizations that interact with the target nonprofit.

Once the consulting project is completed, the Morgan Stanley Strategy Challenge team delivers a board-ready presentation, complete with practical implementation action steps, and tools for future analysis and decision-making. When followed, these recommendations reportedly have led to productivity improvements, more efficient business models and expanded services at the nonprofit.

Besides the customized analysis on key strategic issues and an implementable action plan delivered to the nonprofit, Morgan Stanley benefits from the exposure that the access to the Boards of Directors provides the consultants.

Remind you of anything?

Yep, it’s what happened to me when I got the five nonprofit gigs. Only, Morgan Stanley is proactively going after the networking by creating the ‘Challenge’ as a promotional tool, and then networking with the nonprofits during and after their involvement.

By meeting the boards, and by positioning themselves as problem solvers, the folks at Morgan Stanley are able to easily identify their prime target prospects for their money management and wealth management services.

When I got involved with nonprofits, I stumbled into the same results Morgan Stanley was seeking - new clients. Click To Tweet

It’s an upscale version of Cause Related Marketing. Remember that model, first promoted on the big stage by American Express back in the 70’s?

It’s one that I was very successful with when I was able to get the recommendation of a major federal credit union, to the point where I sold that practice and ran out of town with my tail between my legs because I didn’t want to work as hard as a busy tax preparer does during tax season. (By my third year in that relationship, I was doing over 1,200 returns, by myself, by hand. It was awful!)

Anyhoo, Cause Related Marketing works.

I know, you’ve tried it, and couldn’t get anyone to bite, or you didn’t get any business from it, or one of any other stories I’ve heard over the years I’ve been hosting the weekly brainstorming calls with the elite tax and accountancy marketers I work with.

But, it does work. You just have to find the right model.

And, the offering of Pro Bono services is a tried and true model. It’s called a ‘Free Sample.’ Another idea might be to think of it as the ‘Puppy Dog Close’ (It followed me home ma. Can I keep it?).

You may have to do some thinking to discover what model or method will work for you, but once you figure it out, it becomes yours, and any of your competitors who try to clone your methodolgy will merely look like ‘also rans.’

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Kirk

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