Nonprofits: Use the Car Mechanic Business Model

I’m in Budapest, Hungary where, yesterday, I presented an all-day intensive onsite workshop for education advising centers throughout Eastern and Western Europe affiliated with EducationUSA, a global network supported by the U.S. Department of State. My workshop was regarding business planning and creating revenue streams/fee-based services. I’ve certainly done business planning and managed fee-based services at nonprofits, and I’ve consulted on this subject before with nonprofits, but I have never trained on it.

It was a fascinating challenge for me to develop a hands-on workshop that would be relevant to an audience representing so many different countries, and, therefore, very different rules, different cultures, etc. (countries included Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Lithuania, Russia, Portugal, Ukraine, the UK, Germany, Slovenia and Spain). To get everyone on the same page regarding what I meant by business planning, fees, customer service, and financial sustainability, I used a car mechanic as a model — a car mechanic, it seems to me, is a rather universal concept, someone we are all familiar with, even if we don’t have a car.

To be provocative, I ofcourse used an image of a FEMALE car mechanic.

And then I talked about what makes a car mechanic successful:

  • Her prices are reasonable (at least understandable – why she charges for what for a particular task or material).
  • She helps you to understand what she will do.
  • She can give you an immediate, realistic estimate for how long a job will take and when she can do that job.
  • She does the job she says she will do, on time.
  • She exudes quality.

In short, her customers TRUST her, because of the above activities and approach.

And then we related that back to nonprofit businesses – how, really, we have to do all those same things regarding our organizations, even if we have just one funder who gives us a mega-grant to pay everything.

I think it worked really well at setting the stage for all the rest of the workshop, if I do say so myself. I’m sure that most car mechanics don’t use the forms and exercises I used with these centers, like a SWOT analysis, to develop their business plans. But the car mechanic approach seemed to help my oh-so-multi-cultural group understand how to use those tools.

One of the biggest takeaways that attendees seemed to really seize on: clients who are expected to pay for something anticipate gaining significantly more from an organization than those who get the service for free. That slide got referred back to again and again.

And, finally, I have to thank Michael Keizer for posting the infographic shouldiworkforfree.com in the comments section of a recent previous blog of mine – I ended up using it in the workshop, after being reminded of it by my colleague Ann Merrill, and the group not only laughed, they said it actually helped them in thinking about what to charge for! 

More about my consulting services and my training services.

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