9 Strategies to Spark Sales for Nonprofits

1. Develop Creative Campaigns
It’s easy for an organization to go to a cheaper competitor if you’re simply “the mug guy.” But if you conceive creative branded merchandise campaigns that tie in well to a nonprofit’s mission, the organization is much more likely to remain loyal. “Nonprofits want creativity – different products and ideas that strike a chord,” says Michael Nilsen, vice president of public policy at the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Nilsen recalls how one nonprofit used a pen in donor outreach, aiming to raise funds to help combat torture around the world. Seems like an odd choice, right? The campaign, though, played on the stark reality that pens are used as torture devices. The messaging told potential donors that the pen they’re receiving can be used to write a check to the organization to support the effort to end such heinous crimes. “It wasn’t just slapping a logo on something; the pen related to the cause in a meaningful way,” says Nilsen.

>> Related: Why the nonprofit market slipped in 2015

2. Get Involved & Give Back
Volunteering time with nonprofits can be a conduit to business. “Nonprofits want to work with people who care about their mission,” says Glen Jusczyk, a partner at AMGC Inc. (asi/548902). “Pick organizations you care about and get involved. Be sure it’s a cause you’re passionate about. If you’re just in it for a sale, people will see through you.”

Of course, your time is limited and you can only do so much volunteering. Still, other acts of altruism can create inroads. Donating products, as well as sponsoring nonprofit events, can help lay the groundwork for a solid business relationship.

Ann Patton, owner of Proforma Buckeye (asi/491480), donates tote bags and other items to a particular nonprofit. She purchases the bags at a discounted rate and co-brands them with the nonprofit and its various sponsors. Being associated with the nonprofit is good PR, influencing clients and prospects to view Proforma Buckeye positively. Plus, Patton’s giving puts her distributorship in pole position to consistently earn business from the charity, including direct-mail campaigns that yield between $7,000 and $8,000 annually.

3. Facilitate & Offer More
Often, nonprofits are staffed by busy employees and volunteers who wear a lot of hats. With so much multitasking to do, they want vendors who can make their lives easier. Be that streamliner. For instance, know nonprofit clients’ calendars and proactively present ideas well in advance of events. Also, strive to provide as many products and services as you can – something that increases your sales volume and helps nonprofits because they can go to one vendor for more of their needs. Services can include providing both hard goods and wearables, business documents, Web stores and even brokering deals with website development, social media marketing and video production experts that can help nonprofits with their Internet-based outreach. “There is a strong need for nonprofits to communicate what they’re doing online,” says Nilsen.

4. Help With Retention
Turnover at nonprofits can be high. Help clients counteract the trend with incentive programs that reward employees for longevity and performance – or implement more informal recognition initiatives as a means of saying thanks. “Offer staffers a unique thank-you gift, such as a branded backpack or messenger bag,” says Margit Fawbush, communications manager at BIC Graphic (asi/40480). For especially important milestones, consider something elegant, like a small crystal award customized with the recipient’s name, Fawbush says.

5. Identify Quality Clients
Nonprofits are highly diverse. They range from massive organizations with an international mission to small operations with a virtual skeleton crew that serve a single community. Clearly, larger organizations have more potential spending power, and you’ll do well to partner with them. Still, that doesn’t mean that small to mid-sized organizations can’t make great clients, too. To get an idea which nonprofits might be best to target, review publically available documents – such as IRS Form 990 – that detail a nonprofit’s spending. Then, seek to partner with organizations that devote more significant resources to fundraising and donor outreach. Try searching for 990 forms at the Foundation Center’s website here:

6. Leverage Social Media
The chances are good that at least some of the people you follow on social media post about nonprofit organizations. Perhaps the posts even encourage others in their networks, like you, to make donations. Keep an eye out for these updates. When you see one, contact the poster for more information about the organization. Offer to contribute to the cause and ask if they can connect you with someone at the nonprofit who oversees event planning and fundraising.

7. Give Them Something New
Like many clients, nonprofits are interested in new products – unique items that will catch the attention of audiences and help motivate particular actions, like donating. Attend trade shows and talk to suppliers about new offerings and how they can potentially apply to specific nonprofit clients and prospects. Look for totally novel products in categories that are already popular, including T-shirts, hats, bags and sports bottles.

8. Understand the Audience
While everybody wants new products, novelty alone won’t be enough to make them a hit. It’s essential to understand a nonprofit’s audience and then develop product solutions and messaging that will resonate with each distinctive group. For instance, Nilsen says that relatively inexpensive technology products appeal more to millennials than traditional items. Tailoring solutions to each nonprofit’s audience increases the likelihood of ideal ROI.

9. Know the Budget
While it’s important to price competitively when working with nonprofits, don’t simply assume that they’re only interested in purchasing inexpensive items. Instead, have forthright discussions about buyers’ budgets. You may find that some organizations have more to spend than you thought. Even if the opposite is true, you at least know where you stand. From there, you can source good/better/best options. When presenting the more expensive options, it’s key to explain – and demonstrate through past examples, if possible – how that solution can lead to enhanced results.