A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a conference in Nashville for Neighborhood Networks, a HUD program that supports nonprofits who run technology centers in and around public housing projects. The session was on nonprofit marketing, and I gave my talk on nonprofit website basics. On the panel with me was David Zermeno, executive director of Operation P.E.A.C.E., a Neighborhood Network center in Boston.

David shared several great stories about how simply being nice to people and providing really good customer service had created wonderful opportunities for his organization – perhaps more so than any other traditional marketing tricks. I asked David if he’d be willing to share one of his stories here and he agreed.

Here’s David’s story in his own words:

One day Gloria, a senior citizen, came into my center saying, “What’s this email thing all all about? My daughter-in-law keeps asking me to take a computer class and get an email account so we can communicate throughout the day. She won’t get off my back, but I hate computers. I’m so afraid of them. Do you think you can help me?”

The first thing I did was make sure she felt welcome the minute she walked in the door. “Thank you so much for coming in, Gloria,” I said. “Don’t be afraid,” said the other seniors in my computer class for seniors. “We all had the same fear when we started.” “You see that?” I said. “I’ve never met anyone who I couldn’t help. So have a seat; I’ll have you up and running with email in no time.” As I starting teaching her, I just tapped her on the shoulder and focused on her quick progress.

With her new email account, she became a regular in my computer class for senior citizens every Monday morning where they listen to jazz music and use my class as a community of hip seniors who have access to technology.

Shortly afterwards, Gloria told me her daughter-in-law was very happy and impressed with my computer program for senior citizens. Having an ability to communicate as a family throughout the day, their emails had brought them closer together and had clearly strengthened their relationship.

One day her daughter-in-law called to personally thank and inform me of a grant that was intended to serve community programs like my program for seniors. She strongly encouraged me to apply and gave me a lot of important information. She also informed me that she was also on the panel and would make sure that the trustees knew what a difference my programs were making for families like hers. I couldn’t have a better person as an advocate for my proposal. It was valuable marketing that money could not buy.

That experience taught me some important lessons when it comes to marketing:

1. Treat everyone well and make sure that each person feels welcome.

2. We are all connected, so never underestimate anyone. This senior citizen was the best connection I could have asked for.

3. People are going to talk about you. This is direct marketing. So make sure that you treat people well and give them a reason to promote you with a positive image.

It’s Kivi talking again . . .  this is just one of the stories David shared. He has many more just like it. Be nice. It works.

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