Nonprofits can learn from motorcycle manufacturers? Yes!

This blog was originally written and published by me back in August 2010.

Jayne and her motorcycleIn the last week, I’ve attended two events by motorcycle manufacturers, and there was so much — SO MUCH — that nonprofits could learn from how these motorcycle events were handled.

One event was a women’s-only event by Harley Davidson. It’s called a Garage Party. I went to the one in Gladstone, Oregon. These events are held at dealerships all over the USA.

The other event was by Triumph in Canby, Oregon. They had about 20 motorcycles you could sign up to ride, on group rides every 30 minutes. The Triumph truck travels all over the USA to bring these events to cities all over.

What I learned from these events that’s applicable to nonprofits:

    1. There were notices in local newspapers about these events, but the Internet also played a huge role in marketing these events, specifically viral marketing. I found out about both events because different people posted the details to online communities I’m a part of. Two of our friends went because we posted about one of the events ourselves on an online group. Text-only messages are easy to forward, and were essential in getting the word out to so many people so quickly about these events. How likely are your volunteers, clients and financial supporters likely to forward your organization’s events via email to family and friends, or to put info about it on their Facebook or MySpace status updates? They are not going to do it for every event, but they will for the ones that feel special to them, that really speak to their heart or that they think others will find fun or especially interesting. Also, do you reach out to specific online communities to market an event? In fact, have you ever considered reaching out specifically to motorcycle communities as event attendees?
    2. Both events were very well attended. The Triumph event had the attendance organizers were hoping for but not really expecting, because of the economy and because of the somewhat remote location. The Harley event attendance in Gladstone far exceeded expectations. I think this excellent attendance at both events came not only from good marketing, but also, because of how people are thinking right now: with the beating we’re all taking in this economy, people are revisiting their priorities and lifestyles, and not just cutting back financially, but also thinking about how they are going to live. Riding a motorcycle is surprisingly affordable, not to mention the sense of control it gives you, a sense of control a lot of people feel they don’t have now in other aspects of their life. These events spoke to people’s hearts and, maybe, even their fears.How might volunteering at your organization or experiencing your organization’s program in an event give someone a sense of stability, control, escape or fun? Could you create a one-day volunteering or program event that could invite new people into your organization with the sole purpose of getting as many people into your organization as possible and getting them in one-on-one conversations with volunteers, particularly in a fun, shared activity?
    3. The garage party was focused on a specific group: women. Harley knows that, to sell motorcycles in this economy, it’s got to create more motorcycle riders. And one of the best target audiences is women. So they have created an event that could not be more female friendly: it’s staffed entirely by women (all male staff leave), because new women riders tend to be very self-conscious and self-deprecating, and there’s nothing like watching a woman smaller than you pick up an 800 pound bike (362.87 kilos) and then tell you, “YOU can do this.” There’s great food, short demonstration stations, gift bags, and free t-shirts with I am not a back rest on the back. What could have made the Garage event better? More hands-on activities, and more interactions with actual women riders (see next bullet). And a lesson for the Triumph demo rides: have at least one woman Triumph rider (even more would be better) out talking to the women at these events, whether they look like they ride their own or not, and recruit more women motorcyclists to attend these events by posting about them on local online communities for women motorcyclists.How could your nonprofit create an event that’s targeted at a specific under-represented group? Are there people who are intimidated to come to your events currently, who would need to be catered to specifically in order to attend? What could you do to make an event more welcoming to a specific group that is currently under-represented among your volunteers, clients or supporters?
    4. The Triumph event was staffed primarily by VOLUNTEERS. Yes, a for-profit company was using volunteers! Because they were “free”? Nope. It was for all the right reasons: Because an event attendee talking to a volunteer — someone who owns at least one of the motorcycles in the line up, and owned at least one other probably at some point, who can speak passionately about the product, who wants you to get to have the experience they have been having, and who won’t get any commission from a sale and doesn’t rely on this activity for their financial livelihood — is in such contrast to talking to a salesperson or paid staff person. The volunteers got to spend two days talking about something they love, a free t-shirt, supper each night, and the opportunity to ride any motorcycle not booked for a ride. The few paid staff there stayed in the background, there to fill in blanks and maybe, must maybe, to make a sale, but volunteers were the official spokespeople.Do you value your organization’s volunteers as unique, important spokespeople on behalf of your organization? Do you encourage them to talk and blog about their experience? Do you have a speaker’s bureau of volunteers available to go onsite and talk to a group about your organization? Do you give volunteers a role at all or most public events? And have you ever considered reaching out specifically to motorcycle communities to recruit volunteers?

A LOT to think about!

Update: Here’s me on a Triumph Scrambler at the aforementioned event back in 2011. And here’s me on the motorcycle I have now (a Kawasaki KLR 650), wearing the t-shirt I got from that Harley event I talk about above (“I am not a backrest”).

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