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Improving marketing and sales

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Voluntary Action Sheffield improved its marketing and sales to become more sustainable and better able to meet the needs of its clients.

Background

Voluntary Action Sheffield (VAS) is the main infrastructure organisation in Sheffield. It provides a range of services to voluntary and community organisations and supports volunteers.

The issues we faced

We knew we had skills and expertise such as community accountancy. We also had experience of HR, payroll, training and development.

As an organisation we possessed resources in the form of our Circle building, and information and communications technology (ICT) products and services.

But we needed support to improve the marketing of our offer to frontline organisations.

Like many voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations we were so engrossed in the day job, and so focused on the client sitting in front of us, that we didn’t have sufficient capacity or time to think through how we could best develop and market services to enable us to meet clients’ needs more usefully and maximise our expertise and knowledge.

We had a strong track record of charging for services and products but we wanted to look at marketing these more effectively. Our conferencing and events facilities were other areas we wanted to market more fruitfully.

Here at VAS we’re very lucky to have our own purpose built building with a conference suite on the ground floor and a smaller break out room, plus additional rooms for hire, on the first floor.

The new building was built on the predication that it would make a profit and enable us to carry out our charitable mission by giving us the unrestricted income to provide  services we can’t, and wouldn’t want to, charge for.

Half of our events facilities customers had come from Sheffield local authority. In 2010/11, Sheffield council employees were told they could no longer book external conferencing venues and that its meetings had to take place in-house – at a stroke half of our conferencing business disappeared and we realised we had to appeal to a much broader market. 

The actions we took

We applied for and were awarded a BIG Assist voucher to develop our marketing plans and actions. Initially we were looking at implementation across the organisation but it became apparent early on that this was too big a piece of work and it would be more helpful to focus on two key areas of our business. We chose to look at our:

  1. VC Connect database and ICT products generally
  2. The Circle building.  

Positive outcomes

The piece of work helped us to think through the nature of our offer, and about ways of doing more to follow up enquirers by asking people to give us feedback on how they found our facilities. It also made us think about how we deploy social media and we are using this more now to promote ourselves and events taking place at The Circle. 

Negative outcomes

We probably weren’t clear enough at the outset about what we wanted to achieve from the piece of work. As a result we felt the providers exceeded their brief. The work became more an organisational review than an examination of our marketing.

This caused some tensions and hindered progress. We also had not fully anticipated the amount of work and time required by managers and staff involved in the work and again this led to some friction as we felt that the provider’s expectations were perhaps unrealistic. 

Lessons learnt

The work highlighted some underlying general capacity issues that needed addressed.

This was quite challenging because people had specific roles and responsibilities and we had to think about whether some of these needed a different focus.

There was a gap between where the provider was coming from in relation to the work, e.g. a commercial perspective, and our organisation’s approach and values.

Although we’ve charged for services for quite some time, this stills throws up some cultural and ethical issues. We recognise that there is a balance between our social mission and making enough money to carry out our work.

On a positive note, we’ve had The Circle for seven years now and the conferencing and office rental business has started to make a profit. It is achieving what we hoped it would when the business case for the building was developed. 

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Page last edited Aug 08, 2017

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