The Big Business of Caring
Nonprofits are big business with big dollars attached. With Susan G. Komen claiming ownership of the color pink and trademarking the slogan "for the Cure" (thus preventing any other nonprofits from being accidentally or unknowingly affiliated with Susan G. Komen for the Cure), the picture of nonprofit organizations as corporate dollar-generating entities comes more clearly into focus. These folks, kind and caring as they may be, are not messing around. And with the fundraising dollars pouring in, nonprofit efforts to build their brands and send resounding "thank-yous" to their supporters have become increasingly important.
Even in the midst of economic recovery, Americans are still giving. The Giving USA Foundation reported in 2009 that even though charitable donations were down 3.6 percent, the dollars given that year were estimated at $303.8 billion. Money like that, even if down a few percentage points, is not to be scoffed at. This is where the distributor sales professional comes in. With every dollar given, every check cashed and every card swiped, a recognition gift is given in return. "It appears that the core trend going on today is the nonprofits' desire to recognize all of those who support them; this involves either their corporate sponsors or their volunteer base," said Christopher Duffy, senior vice president of marketing for Bag Makers, Union, Ill. "In both cases goodwill is guaranteed, their association with the nonprofit secured and the overall message of the nonprofit is strengthened."
Considering a recovery that continues to advance at a snail's pace, there is more urgency than ever for nonprofits to bring in donations. "It seems that nonprofits are feeling the effects of the recession the same way for-profit businesses are," said Michael Shulkin, president of A La Carte, Chicago. "Organizations seem to be working with smaller budgets and are under great pressure to raise funds."
Smaller budgets are indicative of almost every business these days, and so the same rings true for nonprofit promotional selling as it does with every other business buying promotional items. Shulkin explained that there are two words that can sum it all up for distributors: economical and creative. A La Carte has seen success during these financially turbulent years by tapping into highly appreciated inexpensive products that send the right message. "We are seeing more interest in our products which allow for a lot of creativity at low price points," Shulkin stated. For example, lollipops for anti-smoking campaigns or custom granola bars used in charity events, such as fundraising runs and parties. These are products that send the desired message while not breaking the bank.
Duffy concurred that the success of Bag Makers during these economic times can be easily understood. "Bags meet two distinct marketing objectives for nonprofits. First, they're very cost-effective ... and [second] they travel around delivering that message to a broader audience. Best of all, they're highly functional as everyone has something to carry."
Keep in mind that selling opportunities abound all year long. "Many of the nonprofit marketing events are event-driven," noted Duffy. That being said, there is no season nor venue where sales are significantly greater than the next, whether it be a black-tie gala event in December or a spring on-air fund drive for a public media company. There is no specific season, except for the extensive outdoor walk/run-a-thons that occur when the weather is more gentle. "We have noticed that the fair-weather months are particularly popular, when many nonprofits hold their large, organized fundraising events, and know that they can achieve higher attendance number," said Duffy.
So what is popular when it comes to giving and recognition? According to both Shulkin and Duffy, pink reigned supreme in 2010 and shows no signs of slowing. "There was a big jump in companies and nonprofits participating in Breast Cancer Awareness programs this year," said Shulkin. "Many distributors used our ribbon-shaped chocolates as either a lollipop or a cello-wrapped piece—some using our Creamy Confection Line to make the ribbons in a pink confection."
Pink may be the most popular nonprofit promotion, but its not the only one distributors can reach out to for selling opportunities. "We see two primary nonprofit market segments using bags the most: health care awareness and education," Duffy said. "In both cases, charities, foundations, and local government agencies within these segments have all shown to be popular users of bags," Duffy concluded.