The other day I was talking with an executive of a company that provides phone system and voice mail solutions for small businesses. I asked what trends he is seeing more of in the small business world.
I was surprised by his answer. Why? Because it did not involve small businesses per se.
Siamak Taghaddos, Co-founder, President & CEO of GotVMail Communications, said one trend he sees with increasing frequency is religious organizations (small churches and local congregations) and other non-profits looking to technology solutions to solve what are essentially the same issues faced by any small business.
In many ways, Taghaddos noted, small religious organizations and non-profits act just like small businesses. First, they usually are short on staff and money. They have “clients” and “prospects” — that is, their existing congregations and those possibly interested in joining “the flock.” Most important, they search out technology and outsourced services to enable them to operate with low fixed costs and still serve their constituencies well.
Siamak said, “Smaller religious organizations and non-profits are among the most vocal customer segments we have, in terms of telling us the issues they face and their needs. On the one hand their org charts are truly about a ‘higher power’ or ‘higher calling’ and their desire to meet the needs of their members. But underneath, most local congregations operate like typical Main Street small businesses.”
Many smaller churches and non-profits, according to Siamak, have limited paid staff. And in some cases, just the religious professional (a pastor or rabbi, for example) is behind the scenes running the entire organization.
“The reality is that ‘beyond the preaching,’ these organizations may be 100% volunteer run,” noted Siamak. “This means the person or people at the head of the organization not only have to worry about issues of faith, but about getting the roof fixed, the parish school funded, the light bill paid.”
When you stop to consider the needs that religious organizations and non-profits have, you can see the similarities with small business needs. Small non-profits and religious organizations need:
- solutions that help them manage relations with their base (such as email marketing software)
- websites and getting found on the Web (Web design, software programming and search marketing)
- phone systems to enable a distributed, often volunteer workforce to answer the phones from remote locations and provide information 24/7 (voice mail, call-forwarding and virtual switchboards)
- solutions for budgeting and managing cash flow (accounting software, online banking and spreadsheets)
“The people heading these religious organizations and non-profits tend to be very creative – they have to be,” said Siamak. “They’re usually not looking to just cut costs. In the first place, they may not have much of a budget to cut. They have to figure out how to serve a constituency with zero budget for hired help. You take a solution like GotVMail, and it enables volunteers to answer the phones from their homes. In turn this opens up a broader set of potential volunteers. For instance, volunteers who may be housebound for large parts of the day, such as mothers with young children or seniors, still can be of service to their religious community.”
After listening to Siamak’s points, I decided to poll some others and see how they saw the needs of non-profits and small businesses stacking up. I also wanted to see if small businesses and nonprofits can learn from each other. Join me for Part Two to see what others say.