Top take-aways from Chamber conference

Alyce Lee Stansbury, Tallahassee Democrat

I attended the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce conference last weekend and came back with new ideas for my business and for nonprofits.

My first take-away is that people, whether they are customers or donors, want experiences not just goods. For any business, that means creating a great customer experience. This reminded me of something Matt Thompson from Madison Social said at a previous Chamber conference. Matt said he doesn’t just want his customers to say “I was at Madison Social.” He wants them to say, “I was at Madison Social when this happened.” If customers have a good experience, they are more likely to keep coming back.

Similarly, donors want to feel good about helping, not just clicking the “donate now” button. This idea was repeated throughout the high energy presentation of Johnny Earle, founder of Johnny Cupcakes who sells T-shirts and a great story, not cupcakes. Johnny talked about his customers standing in line for hours at the grand opening of his T-shirt shops and all the fun he and his team have integrating their T-shirt designs with a full-on interactive experience.

Their T-shirt shops look and smell like a bakery, they package their shirts in bakery boxes and other creative packaging, and they don’t hesitate to dress up in baker’s hats or costumes to sell their shirts. This is something nonprofits have perfected at special events where an arena is transformed into a golden oasis and a nursery becomes a red carpet opening in Hollywood. Customers and donors want experiences and it’s the job of for profit and nonprofit businesses to provide them.

Johnny Cupcakes also talked about taking the time to thank a customer for their purchase. He occasionally signs an order box before it goes in the mail and the resulting appreciation from his customers helps make them customers for life. If you’ve read this column before you know I am a huge advocate for quality donor stewardship which is meaningful appreciation to high value sponsors and loyal donors, not another form thank you letter. Same idea. Customers and donors want to feel appreciated for taking the time to buy their favorite products and supporting their favorite charity.

Sarah Quinlan, Senior VP of MasterCard, told conference attendees businesses need to create priceless experiences to keep customers coming back. I was impressed with the in-depth analysis she and her team have done to understand why customers are buying or not buying goods and services. This same kind of information is vital to nonprofits who can and should be collecting data about the giving habits of their donors. Knowing when donors give, what they give to, when they give more, and how they give can mean the difference between raising more money now and consistently over time.

Another take-away from this year’s conference is not a surprise but rather a reminder of how many smart, talented scientists, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers live in Tallahassee. The session organized by COCA was chock full of information about the amazing talent that lives here and the economic impact of the arts. For example, Springtime Tallahassee generates $9 million in economic impact from people attending the event who live outside of Leon County. COCA unveiled their new logo and is promoting #TheArtsLiveHere as a celebration and call to action. Learn more at

Finally, Johnny Cupcakes reminded us real success is being happy doing what you love. I know this is true for me and many other people who do what they love for a living. That said, no community is without its challenges and Tallahassee is no exception. We have big problems to solve like homelessness, crime prevention, infant mortality and poverty but I believe we are more likely to solve them when all three sectors — business, government and nonprofits — work together. We are fortunate to live in a city where talent is nurtured and the doors are open for business, not only for private companies but also for innovative nonprofits who help employees get to work, businesses recruit new employees, and the Chamber attract and retain companies who want to do business here. By working together, we can make Tallahassee a better place to live, work and play for everyone. #NonprofitsMeanBusiness

Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE is President of Stansbury Consulting and Kelly Otte is Executive Director of PACE Center for Girls. Together they write and edit the column. Contact them at