Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Can You Merchandise Your Mission?

I mentioned on Friday that one of the four trends in fundraising is to learn how to merchandise your mission.

I want to say more about this topic because I think it's an important trend and one that more nonprofits should master.

First, let's get our definitions straight.  According to Wikipedia, "merchandising refers to the variety of products available for sale and the display of those products in such a way that it stimulates interest and entices customers to make a purchase."  

If you've shopped at GAP and Macy's (sorry Macy's) then you know the power of good merchandising.  Good lighting, clear signage, and the ability to EASILY understand what is on sale and what's not is really important to the shopping experience.  Merchandising can make or break a sale.

Traditionally, charities have been wary of "merchandising" for two reasons.  First, we don't usually think of ourselves as being in the business of sales (although in many ways we are).  Second, it's often hard to translate what we do into a discrete product or service.  Third, we're (understandably) loath to encourage more restricted giving.

However, more and more nonprofits are getting into the act because according to the online consulting firm, HJC New Media, good merchandising, also known as symbolic giving, can bring new and younger donors into the fold!

So how do you do it?

First, think about the work that you do and see if you can turn it into a discrete product or service.  For example, if you work on family planning, can you offer your donors a chance to purchase condoms as a gift?  Or, if you work for a homeless shelter can you offer donors a chance to purchase a turkey dinner for a family of four?

Second, benchmark others.  Oxfam Unwrapped (see above) is great at merchandising their work and offering symbolic giving opportunities.  Notice that in addition to making a general donation to help lift people out of poverty, you can also give to Oxfam by buying a pack of seeds, art supplies and soap.  Heck you can even purchase poop!

Global Giving is another charity that has mastered the art of merchandising.  They offer myriad giving options for donors.  See below for an example of a HeroRat gift.

One caveat: If you do decide to offer specific gifts to your donors be sure to be VERY CLEAR about the fact that they aren't really making restricted gifts.

I hate to burst your bubble but when you buy a heifer from Heifer International, they are not really shipping a brown cow across the globe.

Adopt clear language like that used below to ensure that you are transparent with donors about where their gifts go.

"As a donor, you are given the opportunity to designate gifts to specific country programs or for specific animals. Gifts are deposited into various animal accounts, such as "llama/alpaca," "tree seedlings" or "bees." We have different accounts for every type of Heifer International animal. When any animal fund becomes depleted and there is still a need, monies from any other animal fund can be used where needed most. Meeting the needs of hungry families always comes first, but we do our best to accommodate your wishes, too.

Every gift to Heifer International represents a gift to our total mission of purchasing and transporting food and income-producing animals, as well as providing intensive training in animal husbandry; environmentally sound, sustainable farming; community development and global education. Again, gifts designated for a particular project or animal are used as requested until that need is fully met. Any remaining money is put to use where it is needed most."
Again, finding discrete ways to merchandise your mission may bring new donors into the fold.  People are looking for fun and imaginative ways to give.  In addition, they want to know where their funds go.  Help them help you by enabling them to to give in new and unique ways!



P.S. Thanks to Mazarine of Wild Woman Fundraising for encouraging me to write more on this topic.


Andrew Olsen said...

Hey Jocelyn!

Couldn't agree more with you here. If a nonprofit can develop a catalog income stream, it could mean thousands more donors and exponential revenue growth.

Interestingly, the other thing we find is that going the merchandise route with a mission-based catalog helps nonprofits tap into a totally unique share of wallet.

Because most catalog giving is done around the holidays, people aren't thinking of these gifts as necessarily replacing their ongoing contributions to the organization. Instead, they're viewing these as replacing the tie they might get grandpa or the sweater they might get mom.

So you're accessing the holiday gift-giving side of the consumer's wallet rather than canibalizing from the charitable giving portion that you might already have access to via ongoing contributions.


#Ron said...

Well said, Andrew. And great post, Jocelyn! Being a nonprofit in today's world is tough, and I find that in many cases - merchandising being one of them - if we are inclined to "stray away" from a certain method or practise, it REALLY means that we aren't looking at the method or practise creatively enough. Without understanding how consumers leverage their purchasing decisions, we as nonprofits cannot understand how our donors will be enticed to give!

Elaine Fogel said...

Good post, Jocelyn! Nonprofits need to marry their nonprofit hearts with business savvy in order to succeed.

Affordable Grants said...

It is an excellent idea for a nonprofit to merchandise products. Many products can be relevant to the cause. Girl Scout cookies have the Girl Scout logo on the box.
There are items which can be sold from the organization’s website. This is an excellent vehicle for bringing in donations worldwide. Such items include t-shirts, wristbands, bumper stickers, etc. These and other items can have the name of the organization written on them showing the donors support.

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