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Fisher Spotlight
--1999 Annual Report--
-Fisher College of Business-
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Image-"Knowledge is Power"Image-"Knowledge is Power"
Image-"Knowledge is Power"Image-"Knowledge is Power"
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Neeli Bendapudi with Children’s Hospital’s Jeff Wolf.
 
Neeli M. Bendapudi
 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Ivory Tower
Neeli M. Bendapudi

Neeli M. Bendapudi

Assistant Professor of Marketing


There’s on old adage in the business world that says, "you can’t sell brotherhood like soap." Translation: the need for necessary goods and services is constant, and thus a relatively easy sales proposition. Marketing charitable organizations, on the other hand, is a much more intangible process, and therefore a harder sell.

When Children’s Hospital in Columbus recently found itself faced with a similar dilemma, that of understanding the motivations and desires of its dwindling volunteer force, it was Fisher College Marketing Professor Neeli Bendapudi who provided some answers. Applying her years of research into nonprofit marketing, she helped one of Columbus’ oldest health care landmarks keep up with a constantly changing volunteer force.

According to Bendapudi, until only recently, the thought of a "marketing plan" for a nonprofit organization was considered taboo. "But more and more," she says, "as government funding dries up and the discretionary time volunteers have to give shrinks, nonprofit organizations are being forced to develop more of a marketing approach in order to survive."

Working in tandem with Fisher College MBA student Steve Kallister, Bendapudi surveyed focus groups of volunteers to determine the root of their motivation for donating time. "We found those motivations to range from purely altruistic—simply volunteering for the return of a good feeling—to largely egoistic—volunteering because of the individual attention that one might receive as a result." Where many charitable and nonprofit organizations fail, says Bendapudi, is that they fail to recognize those motivations and match them with the subsequent volunteering activity. "If someone is volunteering for self-centered reasons—and there are many who do—you don’t want them locked away in a room stuffing envelopes. They’ll quit in a week or two. That kind of volunteer needs to do more visible community work." By understanding and applying Bendapudi’s findings, Children’s Hospital was able to recruit, and more importantly, retain a sizable volunteer base.

Bendapudi’s expertise was a small part of the Fisher College’s commitment to a direct, meaningful involvement with Central Ohio community organizations. In addition to Bendapudi’s pro bono involvement with Children’s Hospital, each year a Fisher MBA class selects an area public grade school where MBA students volunteer their time and efforts. "Academics have been accused of living in an ivory tower for so long," says Bendapudi. "It’s becoming increasingly impossible for universities and businesses alike not to participate and contribute to the good of the overall community."

Building bridges around the state and local community comes with a windfall of additional benefits, according to Bendapudi. "We know now that companies are beginning to see direct and indirect benefits of having their employees volunteer their time to nonprofit organizations. By working as and coordinating other volunteers, it serves as an excellent training ground for many managers. They can then take those experiences and apply them to their day-to-day job to the overall benefit of the company."

As Bendapudi says, "It’s a slow process, but if we can instill in business leaders of tomorrow the long-term benefits of giving back to the community, we’ll be so much better off in the long run. And hopefully, it’s becoming an easier sell."

Almost as easy as selling soap.

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