This past April, The New York Times reported Americans gave away a whopping $229 billion in charitable donations in 2008. In that same year, the March/April issue of The American reported that the number of dollars given in the U.S. far surpassed the volume donated by any other nation on the planet. While it may surprise you, we are a nation that volunteers time and gives money to charity. Perhaps it is how our government rewards giving through tax deductions or perhaps we just have more to give. No matter what the reason, Americans have built a wildly diverse, event-driven, multibillion dollar industry by volunteering their time and money to increase the public's awareness of important causes. For every event organized, there is a need for mementos and thank-you gifts for those who participated.
Mike Stoeck, director of sales and marketing at Stouse, New Century, Kan., explained how diverse this market is. "Our distributors work with many groups and organizations," he said. "Some are small local organizations that support firefighters and police departments. Others are associated with schools, hospitals or political groups. The largest are national and international groups dealing with major diseases and health concerns."
With a niche this diverse, it is safe to assume the promotional products purchased will be similarly diverse. When it comes to giveaways, the sky is the limit, but food is always popular. Lauren Fox, sales and marketing manager for Fresh Beginnings, Valdosta, Ga., noted what attracts event-planners/buyers to a particular food promotion. "As a food manufacturer, we are able to customize both the color of the product and the tin lid," she said. "A current trend is to support a promotion or event with a customized four-color process tin. The gourmet food gift will disappear quickly but the tin lasts a long time." Gourmet food gifts are especially popular in health-related sectors, particularly those with long hours and double shifts. "The pink chocolate pretzels and pink sugar cookies are the most popular, not only in October [for Breast Cancer Awareness] but year-round for nursing staffs, hospitals [and] radiology groups," Fox explained.
Other products that are awareness event favorites? T-shirts, pedometers, stuffed animals, hats, stress reducers, key chains, mugs, stickers and decals, to name a few, are all blue chip products. "We see strong interest in decals placed inside or outside a window," said Stoeck. "These products are often used as fundraising 'thank yous' given after a donation. They serve a second benefit—once they are placed on the back of a vehicle they become miniature billboards which further promote a cause or group." Keeping the message alive long after the event has taken place seems to be the biggest goal in the awareness promotional product. As Fox put it, "Create lasting awareness."
Sales opportunities within the awareness arena are strong and there are many potential clients to serve, from giant national accounts to the smaller local fundraising groups. The key for distributors is to show a wide variety of products with proven results. Stoeck advised, particularly in this economic climate, that distributors be prepared to answer these questions:
• Will the promotion stand out in the mail?
• If handed out at an event, will there be high perceived value associated the promotion?
• Is it cost-effective?
"Remember that these groups may indeed have a nonprofit status but they are very much business-oriented," Stoeck said. "The same ROI questions and presentations employed to make a promotional product sale at a for-profit enterprise apply."