Nonprofits may not be the first market that comes to mind when prospecting. Sure, everyone would like to get in with a major charity such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, but that isn't always realistic. While it's nice to daydream about making a fortune on pink T-shirts and promoting a meaningful cause besides, big nonprofits like Susan G. Komen for the Cure only need so many vendors, and you can bet those spots are going to be competitive.
Instead, it may pay to look for smaller, less well-known nonprofits. They may not have the budget or the profile of larger organizations, but you might be surprised how many smaller nonprofits out there can make serious use of promotional products on a day-to-day basis. Being the smallest of small businesses, however, they might need a little help getting a feel for marketing, and you might need a little help tracking them down. Luckily, the sections below can help with just that, providing tips on finding and working with smaller nonprofits.
What they are: Ranging from larger organizations like the Sierra Club, to smaller, local entities like wildlife refuges or clean-water groups, these charities spend their time doing their best to help the environment, be that combating pollution or caring for injured or marginalized animals.
What to get them: Janet Wissink, president of the Winnebago Audubon Society, a conservation group based out of Oshkosh, Wis., shared a few ways the organization has used promotional products. Besides utilizing items like T-shirts and other apparel for member gifts and fundraisers, Wissink described how the group integrated imprinted stuffed animals into one of their eduction programs.
"There's a naturalist in Wisconsin whose specialty is frogs. We hire him to come into the schools every year," she said. "He has native Wisconsin frogs, toads and salamanders. The children gather around him on the floor, and they get to handle them, feed them and water them, and he talks about their life cycle and all about the frogs, and so it's a really neat hands-on experience for the children," said Wissink. After the session is over, she explained that a few stuffed toy frogs are handed out to the class, each having "Winnebago Audubon Society" printed across a small sweater on the toy's chest. Wissink added that the giveaway program is repeated during events run from the society's facilities, like a frog-finding night hike, where each child who attends receives a stuffed frog as well.
What they are: Public radio, libraries and most art museums can qualify as 501 (c)(3) charities under IRS law. Institutions like National Public Radio (NPR) and its child stations, as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, would be examples of artistic charities.
What to get them: Famous for the tote bags they give to donors, radio stations like NPR have since moved into the Internet age, setting up whole online stores for the purpose of fundraising (see http://shop.npr.org or http://shop.xpn.org/ for examples). Keep in mind as well that, being radio stations, they will run live events from time to time just as for-profit stations do, surely necessitating the standard promotional fare.
As for the visual arts, museums mirror the fundraising and donor gifts of radio stations, but with a bit more flair in impriting. Items like T-shirts and posters, which can display a replication of one of the museum's pieces are a common choice for fundraising items, but also consider items with a less conventional canvas, like umbrellas for example (see page 50 for details on just such a promotion).
HEALTH EDUCATION GROUPS
What they are: Advocacy groups focused on education rather than spreading awareness, these organizations tend to focus on informing the public health by focusing on issues like swine flu or heart disease.
What to get them: Kitty Chunko Mahoney RN, BSN, MS, president of the Massachusetts Association of Public Health Nurses (MAPHN), said that MAPHN in the past has given out pocket hand sanitizers after some of its various lectures about communicable diseases. "They were a hot item then," said Mahoney. "Most of our work is in infectious disease, so there's always a personal sanitation element to that."
Mahoney explained when MAPHN has the money, it will supplement its other programs with promotional products as well. She named a walking program MAPHN does where it gives out pedometers, water bottles and a walking log when possible. Like many other nonprofits, MAPHN gives an annual gift to its members. "Sometimes it's a flash drive or a tote bag, it depends what the culture of the day is and what we're hearing from the membership that might be good."
RELIGIOUS GROUPS AND CHURCHES
What they are: Everything from the local church youth group to the Catholic Church itself will fall under the IRS 501(c)(3) code to be considered a nonprofit charity.
What to get them: In our October 2009 issue*, we ran a story where USB memory drives were used to help a church distribute promotional copy, such as service times or other event schedules. Churches too will sometimes have youth groups or summer camps where T-shirts and other items would be of value.
*To find this story online, perform a "most recent" search for "USB" at magazine.promomarketing.com
MEDICAL AWARENESS GROUPS
What they are: The more famous medical charities, like March of Dimes or Livestrong, that focus on raising awareness and money to combat some serious and often incurable diseases.
What to get them: Kelly Grant, vice president, business development for Sonoma Promotional Solutions, Sonoma, Calif., recommended focusing on typical awareness products, like silicone wristbands and T-shirts, because of their ability to achieve the two main goals of such organizations: raising money and calling attention to the disease. Grant reasoned this was the whole idea behind the Livestrong silicone braclet campaign, which created a kind of feedback loop where the more bracelets sold led to more awareness being raised, which in turn sold more bracelets, and so on.