Vertical Market Focus: Succeeding with Non-Profits

Non-profits as a vertical market? Here's how one managed service provider (MSP) saw big success targeting organizations in this group.

Stuart Crawford, Consultant

April 9, 2015

4 Min Read
Vertical Market Focus: Succeeding with Non-Profits

We all have our preferred verticals that form the core of our client base. Healthcare is big in the MSP community today, and so is the financial field. There are amazing benefits to working with the same community over and over again. You don’t need me to tell you that.

So what I’ll ask instead is whether you’re looking at non-profits as a potential vertical.

Now, you may scoff and think you won’t make a lot of money turning to companies that often can’t rub two pennies together without their board screaming in panic, but it’s time to think again. Non-profits may actually be one of the best potential verticals an MSP can target.

That’s the lesson that Alan Reeves of SunRiver IT in Nashville has learned over his years of doing business. In fact, SunRiver’s relationship with non-profit organizations is so strong that they’ve created an alternate service delivery model they refer to as the Non-Profit Initiative.

“If a person’s career is with a non-profit or two, their career path is likely going to remain with non-profits,” says Alan. “An individual who can lead a non-profit organization has very specialized management and people skills, and they tend to move and advance laterally in the non-profit sector.

“We have found that when we are working on behalf of a non-profit, word spreads very quickly. They are largely their own ecosystem. It’s amazing word of mouth. And if you help one non-profit, others will come knocking at your door.”

Alan’s relationship with non-profits started with his other company, MouseCalls, more geared towards helping small companies and individuals with computer issues. A gentleman drove past MouseCalls on his way to work every day, and one day stopped in to talk about their service. It turned out he was the director for the state-wide chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. One thing led to another, and MouseCalls ended up providing them with a managed services plan at a time when the concept was still pretty new.

MouseCalls supported them for years and gave them a very fair (“Some would say ‘overly fair,’” says Alan with a smile) rate for their labor. And then one day, it paid off.

“I got a call from the general manager of the Tennessee Special Olympics,” says Alan. “They had some IT needs, and she’d gotten a recommendation from our client at the MS Society. This was in 2007… they’ve been our client ever since.”

That’s the key to working with non-profits: They TALK to each other.

They form a very close-knit society that gives each other recommendations, and Alan quickly discovered he was able to pull in much more business by continuing to offer managed services at a discounted rate while providing some preferential pricing for traditional project or break-fix work.

SunRiver also manages to maintain amazing relations with non-profits by showing them other ways they can maximize their budget. One of their biggest secrets is the company TechSoup, a software clearing house that deals only with non-profits.

“You can get software for a song through them,” says Alan. “Many non-profits don’t even know about them. You introduce them to TechSoup, show them the hundreds if not thousands of dollars you can save them while helping them get the best software for their needs, and they are all over that! You make a client for life by educating them on an invaluable resource they didn’t know they had.”

They’re in it for the connections and free word-of-mouth evangelizing of their service.

“All of these non-profits have boards,” says Alan, “and the people on these boards typically come from for-profit entities. Someone may be giving that board a presentation on the state of their IT and how much better it’s been since SunRiver came in… that may get a board member thinking about how much better it all sounds compared to their current service.”

Many of SunRiver’s other clients have been introduced through their non-profit connections, and business is booming.

So don’t discount the major impact working with non-profits could have for your MSP. You can help a worthwhile cause, make a client for life, and get the best reputation possible, if only you think ahead and put yourself forward.

Only 1 in 100 I.T. firms think marketing first, but 100 out of 100 want more leads. Ulistic is here to help managed services providers think strategically about their marketing to get more leads while still focusing on running their business. Our team engages with your team every day, providing expert marketing materials and advice to create a foundation for stratospheric success. Learn more at

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About the Author(s)

Stuart Crawford

Consultant, Ulistic

Stuart Crawford is Creative Director and MSP Marketing Coach with Williamsville, NY and Burlington, ON-based Ulistic, a specialty firm focused on information technology marketing and business development. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience pertaining to how technology business owners and IT firms can use marketing as a vehicle to obtain success.

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