Do you remember the Yugo, or am I dating myself? Back in the mid-late 1980s, it was an inexpensive low-frills car. It actually originated in Serbia as the Zastava Koral and was then marketed in the US as the Yugo. People made fun of it because it was so . . . basic, the opposite of why many people buy a car. Borrowing a line from Wikipedia:
“ . . . in the United States, the car was frequently subjected to ridicule and mockery and it has a universally negative rating. Car Talk has rated it the “worst car of the century,” and many car magazines and TV shows rate it as the worst car of the 1980s and also the worst car to be ever made in the history of the automotive industry.”
There is a principle in marketing that I call “The Yugo Principle.” It basically asks the question, “Who is the best advocate for a Yugo?” The answer isn’t the salesman or the manufacturer. It is “The person who just drove one off the lot.” The theory goes that this person will be a forceful advocate for the virtues of the low frills car that people laugh about – the low cost, the convenience, the minimalist approach, . . . whatever. Why? Because if it wasn’t a brilliant purchase, then the mistake accrues to the buyer.
This isn’t a judgment on the car – each to his or her own. (It also is not a judgment on individual charities, as I’m about to tie them together.) But it does mean that the person who has just committed to a purchase or investment has all kinds of reasons – some tied to their ego or appraisal of self-worth – to evangelize the decision they just made. This is an important concept for non-profit practitioners, who sometimes are swimming upstream to advocate for often obscure charitable causes to a marketplace of potential benefactors who are also being contacted by higher profile, better known, or more established organizations seeking the same finite charitable dollars.
In the development world, we know that the executive staff of an organization is tightly tied to its financial wherewithal. That is what determines their programming budget and is the chief factor in how impactful they can be. The Board is the second-closest tied to an organization’s revenue, especially when they are involved in budget deliberations or long-term strategic planning – and always when they are contemplating a new initiative or hiring a staff member or consultant. But the Yugo Principle also applies to major donors, as they have made a commitment to the organization and that only comes after they reach an internal decision that it is a worthwhile cause or meets other personal factors to allow the decision.
Development officers – whether staff or consultants – need to be cognizant of these donors and whether they would be willing to translate some of their new-found excitement about the organization to activate their own social networks to get their friends on board as well. I have seen numerous occasions where a development officer learns of a new major donor commitment and breathes a sigh of relief and then switches focus to their next prospect. My argument is that they are leaving a greater opportunity on the cutting room floor if they do this. The announcement of a new commitment is the beginning (or middle) of the conversation – not the end – and it should prompt an in-person meeting with someone senior from the organization (Board Chair, Executive Director, Director of Development) about how they can together do more for a cause that everyone already agrees is worth their investment.