In this week’s episode, Doug C. Brown speaks with Josh Olson, the Executive Director of Angel Flight West, a nonprofit organization that enables pilots to fly people to medical appointments and bring medical transportation to those who cannot afford it. Doug and Josh discuss the power of win-win thinking, why big-picture thinking matters in business, how cause-driven marketing campaigns can increase revenue and brand loyalty, and much more.
Josh Olson started volunteering for Angel Flight 20 years ago, has worked in a variety of roles including Mission Ops, and has served as Executive Director of Angel Flight West (AFW) since 2014. Under Josh’s leadership, AFW’s donated flights and impact have grown by 43%. Josh holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Taylor University and an MBA with a non-profit emphasis from Marylhurst University. He previously worked in Advertising and in the Entertainment Industry, and is continuing his education as a pilot.
Visit his website: www.angelflightwest.org
In this episode, I’ve got a great guest. His name is Mr. Josh Olson. He is the Executive Director of a company called AngelFlightWest.org. Angel Flight West do exactly what they say in its name. They’re angels. They fly people and provide medical transportation to people who cannot afford it to get to medical appointments and many times lifesaving operations and things of that nature, all regarding helping people.
What has that got to do with business? Why are we in business? To make a profit. For what? To make money. When you drive the mission down, it’s to help someone win. I say this at the end of every episode I do. Play, win-win. The reality is when you use mission-driven impact concepts in your for-profit business or nonprofit business, you will sell more. You’ll get more donors, buyers, volunteers and gratification.
You’ll have a brand that people will remember, not just about your company or you but the mission that you are helping or have created. Josh and I are going to talk in-depth about how to do this. Without further ado, let’s go talk to this man. He’s super smart and professional. You’ll love him. Here we go.
Josh, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for being here.
Thanks, Doug. It’s an honor to be here and talk to you live.
We’re going to talk about mission-driven companies because you have one. You’re the Executive Director for Angel Flight West.
You can find us online at www.AngelFlightWest.org.
What do you do? Give context to people here.
We deliver health and hope to patients and families of patients that need access to healthcare that wouldn’t otherwise be able to access it because of geography, immune issues and costs. We do so using volunteer pilots that donate their aircraft and planes to fly people to and from treatment. We have some commercial airline partners that do the same thing with commercial flights. On the ground, we have some volunteer drivers that meet the airline and/or volunteer pilot at the airport and drive them to healthcare treatment or lodging.
This is all driven by volunteers?
That’s right. It grew out of an idea in the early ‘80s from a group of volunteer pilots that said, “We love to fly.” Surely there’s something better than flying a couple of hundred miles for a hamburger at a restaurant at an airport and flying back. Back then it was called the $100 hamburger and now it’s more like the $500 hamburger. They had this thought that they could be heroes in the sky, do last-minute transplant flights and so forth. We do a little bit of transplant in organs, tissue and blood.
Mostly what they found when they got into this space is that there’s this massive need for transportation healthcare. Sometimes that’s across town and it’s pretty well-documented within the healthcare community as it relates to ER visits. In this case, they realize there are all these people traveling from rural areas and areas that don’t have access to advanced healthcare to receive healthcare at these centers of excellence.
Oftentimes they don’t have reliable ways to get there. They were canceling a lot of flights. It’s onerous on them physically and/or their family to do these trips back and forth. When these hospitals learned of these volunteers offering their services, they quickly said, “We can use you.” It blossomed from there organically.
I’m curious, why would people donate their flight time? Pilots get well paid and all the other emergency services people that are donating their time. Why would they do such?
Our volunteers, for the most part, are not professional pilots. Even if they are professional pilots, they are flying because they love flying and they do it as a hobby as well. Many of our volunteer pilots are entrepreneurs or business people that own their aircraft and operate them. Others are aviation enthusiasts that love flying rent aircraft or use all their discretionary income to go fly. It’s something that they want to do. If you are a golf enthusiast or you love to read books or go to the movies, you spend your discretionary income to go do those things.
In our situation, they love to do it so much and they get to use their aircraft, time and passion to help somebody else. It’s one of those rare cases where everyone wins. The volunteer gets to do what they love and feel like a million bucks afterward. The patient gets the healthcare access they need and our healthcare partners get to access patients that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to have to improve their healthcare systems and outcomes, you name it.
It’s a neat situation and unique too within the aviation space because of the type of flying we do, not to bore you with details but the FAA considers called Part91. If you’re a hobby pilot, you can’t receive compensation for flying folks. The one exception they give is that for these volunteers donating their time, they can receive an in-kind tax contribution. That’s another way they went. Most folks are volunteering. It’s incredibly expensive to fly these flights but they’re doing it simply because they love to fly and help others.
That’s where I wanted to get to, which I’m grateful you did. It’s more cause-driven marketing. Let’s say I’m a young guy. I got my pilot’s license. I have my plane. I’m doing good in life and I have a choice. Do I fly for Angel Flight West or the cheerleading team to Cabo San Lucas? I choose to fly on Angel Flight West because I’m helping other people, not that I wouldn’t be helping the cheerleaders but as a young guy, that’s an opportunity to get a date. Here, I have an opportunity to save a life. The cause is much greater than getting a date in most cases with these people. You have a cause-driven marketing campaign going on through human nature. When it comes down to it, we all want to help one another for the most part.
I can’t tell you how many times I hear our volunteers say, “I feel like I’m getting way more out of this than I’m giving,” giving thousands of dollars and hours out of their day. For a lot of these folks, young successful professionals, the time and money are significant but they’re choosing to do this because they have already done the fun flights to the vacation destinations.
They have flown a friend to show off on the plane but in this case, a lot of charities can write a big check to serve on their board of directors. This is an opportunity to see your impact on a one-to-one basis. You’re in a small cockpit with someone who if they’ve had treatment, they’re most likely falling asleep right away because they’re exhausted from this ordeal of healthcare that they’re trying to navigate. If they’re on their way to treatment, they’re chatty because they may have never flown in a small airplane before.
They’re nervous they’re going to receive treatment and they don’t know what news they’re going to get. You get to do what you love but you get to hear and see the firsthand impact that you’re having on someone’s life. That’s why they’re like, “I thought I was going to get up and do a two-hour flight to keep sharp on my piloting skills. All of a sudden, I met this amazing person that’s courageously battling this disease that no one should ever have to battle.”
They were so grateful for saying thank you to me and I wanted to say, “No, thank you to you. I understand that I’m blessed to be able to do what I do to be healthy and fly an airplane. I’m equally blessed to have the opportunity to serve you and walk alongside you.” It’s neat relationships that get formed and sometimes they’re long-lasting. We’ve got pilots that have flown patients dozens of times and thankfully, a lot of these patients have beaten their illnesses but they still stay in touch and remain friends.
You’re going through a critical time in your life. It’s impactful for you emotionally and vice versa. You’re impacted by helping someone do that. That connection that’s made is special. To your point of cause-driven marketing, there is no better marketing than experiential. When you get to touch, taste, see and feel something, especially something that makes you feel so good emotionally, that’s hard to replicate.
It’s almost impossible to replicate. Josh, I’m saying this from a personal perspective because early on in my life, I was in the medical field. I then came across an accident and had the chance to save someone’s life. I still think of this person and it was so gratifying. Here I am a fledgling medical school guy, driving along a dark road at night and they jumped the barrier with their vehicle. 3 of them died, 1 was still alive and 1 had neck injuries.
I recognized that right away and I was able to hold him down. They told me that he would’ve snapped a spine if I didn’t do what I did. He would’ve been at best paralyzed for the rest of his life but likely would’ve died before the ambulance got there. The point being is those feelings last with us forever and they’re extremely high value. That’s what I take out of this whole process.
Folks, you might be sitting here going, “You’re the CEO of Sales Strategies Podcast. Why do we have Josh on this call?” Write this one down. If you put mission-driven aspects into your business, people respond. The higher the value perception that they have, the more that people will do. If you think about your business model, you’re not doing this on purpose. This is a 501(c)(3) organization and you’re doing this for a volunteer-driven organization throughout but people are responding. Too many commercial companies don’t think through what their high-value proposition is to people.
People go the extra mile for a lot of things. I watched on YouTube the 30 best animal rescues ever and they were all by volunteers. They find these animals that are stuck or are going to die or be in a bad way and their safeties in peril. They’re digging grizzly bears out of a cave. Why do we do these things as human beings? We do want to help people and it’s of high value to us. Your whole business is driven on that premise, is what I’m getting.
It’s our human nature to want to help others. We can all get sideways on that fact. You mentioned a couple of things and I see this in my for-profit counterparts quite a bit. People want to do something more than deliver on a bottom line. Yes, everyone wants to make money and achieve their financial goals for whatever their priorities are in life but you see increasingly for-profit companies changing their focus not just from making a widget or providing certain services or technology. We have a greater responsibility.
Look at Google trying to go zero carbon footprint in their entire company. They’re doing that, not because it’s profitable for them but because, 1) They know the corporate responsibility of being the behemoth. People are looking to them and wanting that leadership and, 2) They’re doing it because their employees want it.
It’s corporate philanthropy and employee engagement. We’re in a nonprofit so the needs that are out there for nonprofits already provide that. People want to come to work and make a difference. We have volunteers that come that want to make a difference. The same applies to for-profit companies, providing volunteers opportunities to volunteer at these nonprofits or match their gifts to it. We have our volunteers and companies match the time donated with a cash donation, which is incredibly impactful as well. Whatever the case is, providing that opportunity is important.
For us, that’s something that we engage with employees on. Alaska Airlines is one of our big corporate sponsors and they provide opportunities not only for their pilots to volunteer but some of their daily employees as well being one of these volunteer drivers helping our patients in other ways, whether that be fundraisers, friendraisers or whatever the case may be. The response to that is tangible. Serving the community that Alaska serves is woven into its fabric.
They’ve done a good job with that but what they do on top of that is provide all these other opportunities for employees to get involved in their partner nonprofits and community projects that they do. What ends up happening? There’s data to provide that we won’t slow down here with but your employee retention gets much better. Your brand loyalty gets much better with both your employees and your customers that know that you’re doing this.
It’s an interesting aspect, as a CEO, of how you deal with your employees and how you can give them opportunities and benefits that aren’t bottom-line stuff. That can be hard or it can be easy depending on where you’re at in your business. Thinking outside of the box and providing these other benefits that aren’t as tangible gives back to the community that you’re serving and makes your employees feel better about how they’re participating on a day-to-day, 40 hours a week or 60 hours a week or whatever they’re working.
You’re talking about something cool. Retention and loyalty, employers want this, especially with the Great Resignation that supposedly happened recently here. Anything that’s mission-driven will give an impact and usually will breed loyalty and retention. We see this a lot and I see founders forget this sometimes. In a startup atmosphere, we all go do all kinds of jobs and hats that we wear and go the extra mile, work extra hours and do whatever because it’s for the mission of growing the company.
It’s fun when we’re in a startup atmosphere. That is the high-value proposition of a startup, from my perspective when it comes down to it. Your volunteers must be having fun and having fulfillment in their life other than outside their normal realm of life. You alluded to this. This has been gratifying to help people but do they report back ever and go, “I do this because it’s fun and I feel great about what I’m doing?”
With all of our volunteers, we try to do a 360-feedback loop. After every volunteer incident, we invite feedback in terms of how the process was for them and ways to improve. Safety is a big focus for us so we always want to create this culture of self-reporting when it comes to safety. We do get that feedback quite frequently from our volunteer pilots and also our patients.
We try to do that as much as we can because we’re a small company. We’re about eighteen employees and we’re platform based. We’ve got thousands of volunteers that we’re organizing, thousands of people that need our services and we’re this little engine in the middle that matches them all together.
We need to be in tune with what’s going on because we’re not in every hospital or airport listening to what’s going on. We invite that feedback regularly and host some town hall meetings occasionally so that we can get that feedback and adjust and change our services as needed. To your point, that is consistent from a volunteer.
Using something that you love to do, that you’re passionate about to help someone else, regardless of what for-profit or non-profit company you’re serving is a recipe for success because built into that is something that we all long for. 1) For someone to come in our time of need and help us. 2) Finding worthy people that have been dealt a bad hand in life and being able to use their skills and abilities to help them. It is a recipe for success.
Business owners, if you take a mission-driven mission and you’re supporting that, you get to support that publicly. One of my clients is the second largest supporter of an organization called Kiva, which does micro loaning to underdeveloped and underserved communities. It’s used as a marketing position as well because they’re doing a great thing so they should be rewarded. Anybody who’s supporting AngelFlightWest.org is able to say, “I’m a supporter of your company.”
We have several for-profit partners. I mentioned Alaska Airlines but we have a few others as well. The value proposition for a for-profit CEO company and a nonprofit is more tangible than just, “I’m going to write you a check for $100,000,” and I get to put X amount of food on the plate for a homeless organization, food bank or Angel Flight arrange X amount of flights for that dollar amount.
What you mentioned is important. Your customers and employees want to know that the money and time that they’re spending is going to something greater than making that particular CEO or their shareholders wealthier. That’s well-documented out there. The value that we’ve pitched to other companies is the cause itself is super meaningful. If you’re in healthcare and aviation, the stories of people from a remote community being transported for free to a particular surgery, treatment or clinical trial and often saving their lives, if not giving them hope that they wouldn’t have otherwise had is impactful for yourself, your employees and your customers.
It’s the same thing in terms of marketing. Our social media partners, what we put on people’s websites, those types of things, often get way more clicks and engagement. People get excited about something a little different than what they’ve seen. Let’s use Alaska Airlines as an example again. Low fares to Mexico, that’s awesome. That’s going to get lots of clicks because that’s the service they’re providing.
When you hear about this social worker that has been working in remote Alaska to help others, getting herself sick and not being able to get to Seattle where she needed her treatment, even on her airline, where that’s the only airline that serves her particular community, if not for Angel Flight, she would not have been able to get that transportation back and forth between Alaska Airlines.
If I’m sitting in an Alaska Airlines first class seat and I read this story in their magazine or on their social media, I would feel like, “I could have flown Delta here. I’m sure glad I flew to Alaska because look at how they’re giving these dollars back to the community to help others less fortunate than me.” It sounds trivial but it’s meaningful. It adds up and the data proves that.
I got to prove what you’re saying is right. I did not know Alaska was one of your partners.
They’re our biggest corporate partner.
I’m in the process of taking another business credit card for the company and I was looking at airline cards. I saw Alaska offered a good point thing. I fly out to the West every once in a while. It’s not like Alaska’s got all the routes that I would be looking for. I was looking at the cards going, “Should I get a Delta card or an Alaska card?”
I’ve got a United card and an American Airlines card. They’re affiliated. I was like, “I need another card for the company but Alaska doesn’t go everywhere I wanted to go because it’s not.” I’m looking at all of them. The fact that you said is they’re supporting your organization. I don’t know if I held this up on my paper but I wrote down my Alaska Airlines credit card. With the story here that we’re talking about, I will likely go get an Alaska Airlines credit card.
Somebody reading is saying, “This mission is driven. My flight ticket is paying for something that could help someone more than I’m going to help whomever I’m going to see or the feeling that it’s equal.” That is extra value. The reason I’m bringing this up is the perception of value is what people buy. To me, as a nonprofit organization, you have one of the most difficult pitches in the world. There’s no product and service other than the potential of the intangible feeling or the marketing that comes out of there.
In a lot of ways, you’re right but in some ways, I would challenge your assumption. A lot of people view non-profits and for-profits as operating differently. From taxes and everything else, there are a lot of differences but also in a lot of ways, there are similarities too, except our product is transportation for people needing to access healthcare. In a for-profit world, that is incredibly lucrative.
Go look at how much an air ambulance costs and you’ll see how quickly a family will get strapped for transportation to healthcare. Our transportation is non-emergency but still, the cost of that is significant. If the people we were serving could pay for our services, it’s incredibly compelling. Your life is in danger and you need to get from point A to point B. You’re going to fork over the cash that you need if you have it. In that sense, our product is incredibly compelling. It’s the thing that you need now.
Instead of a product that we’re selling and exchanging money for, we’re providing a service. Instead of them paying for it, it’s so incredibly valuable that other people want to donate money to make that happen. We’re not billing our customers directly. It’s almost indirect billing because there are so many people out there that feel passionate about it that they’re willing to donate. They’ve been impacted and seen the impact that I have. They believe in nonprofits to carry out that particular need that they see in their society. It’s a slight shift. It’s not even business to business. It’s the right business for the consumer with an intermediary acting as the payer in that situation.
In a sense, I would challenge non-profit CEOs to think the same way. You still need to do the sales and marketing to generate that demand and you’ve got the supply to deliver on the need that you’re delivering but ultimately with the supply and demand curve, you need to try to manage it so that it’s intersecting perfectly to maximize that impact. On the revenue side, you have to make sure you’ve got the donors and partners that are going to be that intermediary to pay for those that couldn’t otherwise access it.
Speaking of donors and partners, if somebody’s sitting here going, “This is cool. I want to get ahold of Josh or the company,” how do they do so?
You can access everything online at www.AngelFlightWest.org. We have every way you could want to give, whether it be appreciated assets, checks, a foundation or a credit card. Unlike nonprofits where a portion of your proceeds goes directly to the patient, ours is a multiplier effect because we have so many flights donated in kind by our volunteers and our partners. For every dollar that’s donated to Angel Flight, $5 to $8 is donated in kind.
Can you imagine going to a stockholder meeting and saying, “You can do $1 for a stock but you’re going to get $5 to $7 back right away?” It sounds weird and that’s why we get questioned on our Charity Navigator and GuideStar results. “How do $0.92 of every dollar go to the patients?” The only thing we pay for is technology space and the staff it takes to carry that out. It’s compelling in that sense. The most valuable thing anyone can do for Angel Flight and any nonprofit for that matter is a volunteer. There is no price on your time and energy.
That’s why I started this podcast talking about our volunteers. I’ll continue to shout that it’s incredibly valuable. You need it all. You need finances, volunteers and passionate and dedicated staff and good leadership. You mentioned the startup founder is part of an entrepreneur. When I stepped into the Executive Director role at Angel Flight or the CEO role, Angel Flight was struggling. I was good at doing a lot of things and wearing all the different hats. I was like, “I’m going to try to amp this up and help the organization.”
What you find out quickly is, 1) It’s exhausting and, 2) It’s not a recipe for long-term sustainable success. You have to develop a great team around you and cast a vision that everyone can follow for it to be ultimately successful. Otherwise, even if you’re the most talented person in the room, to which I am not even close, you’re largely going to be spinning your wheels. It took me a while to figure that out.
One of my mentors is a former CEO of Alaska Airlines, who volunteers his time to teach me that. He’s like, “You’re super talented, Josh but you’re going to bang your head against this wall until you can find other people that can do this job better than you and all these different departments or areas.” That was a huge learning lesson for me and I’m thankful that I had someone willing to tell me the brutal truth that early on so that we could enable some of the success and growth we’ve had over the past years.
We all need people like that in our lives that say, “Your tires are flat or they’re going flat. You’re in the car driving thinking it’s all right.” One of the things about donating time and money is it plays into the universal law of reciprocation, the law of cause and effect. We all have a little bit of time and money. It creates abundance in our life. We create space in our life.
I don’t want to get all metaphysical here on people but the reality is it does. From my perspective, it always has. When you do something nice, somewhere, somehow that’s coming back. It’s that boomerang effect. One of the big reasons that a company like yours does well is that people are donating their time for that and get way back more than they’re giving.
Even if they don’t care, they feel that’s what’s happening to them. I would challenge all companies out there who are reading this and your story to go find a mission and support it. There’s nothing wrong with profiting off your mission. It’s just the way things work. Go find a mission.
For the CEOs out there, I mentioned the coaching opportunities and there are lots of different nonprofits that offer that value for someone to use their particular expertise to do a project, consult or coach with a nonprofit. If they’re not on a board of directors for a nonprofit, something that either relates to their business or something they’re personally passionate about, I would encourage them to get involved there. You get way more back than what you’re giving.
The other neat thing to see is if you can enable another leader in a non-profit sector, even if you’re serving in a for-profit sector in something that you’re interested in, passionate about or related to your business, equipping them to carry out that mission is way more gratifying than even seeing your company knock it out of the park and your bottom line increased. It taps a different part of you that is more heart and emotionally aligned than we all need. I would encourage folks to find those opportunities too.
It’s much more gratifying to see a child or your child catch the winning touchdown, hit the home run, whatever sports analogy you want to take, boy, girl or other. It’s more gratifying as a parent to see that happen and as a business owner to see the impact that we’ve created. Josh, thanks for being here on the show. I appreciate you being here. Awesome message. Folks, I can’t say enough. Check it out at AngelFlightWest.org.
Thanks for the opportunity, Doug. Thanks for your heart. I appreciate what you’re doing to help all of us lead better.
What did you learn? I learned a few things. Let me give you what I’ve learned. Mission-driven impact in business results in more sales. I conceptually knew that but it hit me when I was talking about the Alaska Airlines thing. I’ve been looking at another credit card for the company and we need another business credit card.
I want an airline card for my reasons. The reality is as soon as he started saying, “Alaska Airlines are supporting our company,” in my head, I went, “That’s my credit card company. That’s the credit card that I’m going for.” They’re not the company that has a credit card but it’s branded, Alaska Airlines.
Why not use mission-driven impact in your business? It increases sales. Why? It increases value. Why? People want to help people. Most people in the world want to help people. When we can do that and you can make it almost effortless for your buyers to buy into the concept of the mission-driven impact, it increases their value perception and makes them feel better. Who doesn’t want to do business with somebody when they’re feeling good about doing business with that particular person? In this case, you.
Consider a mission-driven impact on your business. If you don’t have one. Go to AngelFlightWest.org. Contact Josh. I’m sure that he would love your help. The other thing is to remember prospecting. They’re a nonprofit organization and they understand the value of continuous prospecting.
If you’re not doing continuous prospecting in your business, you’ll see up and down sales cycles, revenue and profitability at times because you’ll have more expense during that quarter or that period, which is the dry time or downtime. If you look at it as an up and down, the down will be the dry time and you’ll be looking at things going, “Our expenses are high but we don’t have the revenue coming in so therefore, our profitability will be low.”
If you loved this concept, let us know by sending a message to YouMatter@CEOSalesStrategies.com because you do matter to us. If you want to give this a five-star review, we would love it. If you want to tell friends about this episode or any other episode, we would love it.
Here’s one other thing I wanted to bring up. In the middle of the episode, I made a mistake. I fumbled on the word angel. We all make mistakes. Here’s the thing. When you make mistake, don’t worry about sanitizing it. Be yourself. When you’re conveying value to another person, be yourself. They’re going to appreciate that far more authenticity. You are more authentic. Buying. When it comes down to it, buyers do appreciate the fact that you’re a human being. You don’t have to be perfect.
With that being said, go out and sell something. Sell a lot of it. Play win-win. They win, you win. That is giving them ultimate value for your ultimate ask. When the two line up, you got a match. If you have a subject matter that you feel is great for this show, please reach out to us. We’re getting a lot of people reaching out. I appreciate you doing so. Send an email to YouMatter@CEOSalesStrategies.com. If you or yourself want to be in the top 1% of earners through selling, reach out to me directly at Doug@CEOSalesStrategies.com and let’s have a conversation about that. To your success.
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