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Should Your Organization Sell Products
by Tony Poderis
I am made increasingly aware of the conflict non-profit organizations experience when faced with choosing between:
The number and variety of selling opportunities presented to non-profit organizations, especially through the Internet, is growing rapidly. All too often, the advertisements for those products and services make outrageous and misleading promises of big and easy money to needy and vulnerable non-profits.
There is nothing wrong with selling a commercial product or service to help support a non-profit organization if:
Raising contributed income for non-profit organizations requires much more than selling commercial products and services to make money. Such programs have their place, but most organizations simply cannot generate enough income from them to meet all their needs. A number of years ago the Girl Scouts proved that point with their highly visible campaign to let the public know that "Girl Scouts can't live on cookies alone," and that the organization required additional major support in the form of philanthropic contributions.
Selling products and services to generate income seems an easy way to make money. Some commercial vendors of products and services even tell their prospective non-profit customers, "all of the money you'll ever need," can be raised this way. That "sales pitch" is very attractive to non-profits which are unable to fathom how they can undertake the hard and sometimes frustrating work of recruiting volunteers, identifying prospects, managing campaigns, and asking for money.
It seems easier and less painful to sell products and services to their constituents and to the general public. The "make more money than you'll ever need" sales hype they hear from some commercial vendors is quite attractive indeed.
While there are many reputable vendors of products and services now in the marketplace who seek to help non-profits develop new sources of income, they do not always apply a customer-first attitude to their non-profit customers and clients:
Well meaning vendors of merchandise and services often fail to realize that many charitable organizations are likely to embrace a sales program because they perceive it as a way to provide quick and promising rewards while being less stressful and labor-intensive than fund-raising campaigns.
A non-profit organization must always prioritize and put into meaningful perspective opportunities to generate contributed income. In the main, they must always strive to raise the greatest amount of money from the fewest funding sources in the shortest period of time. This simple premise is absolutely critical to most non-profits to employ because of their constantly imminent needs and limited resources. All fund-raising efforts should be measured in those ways.
When considering selling a product or service, officials of a non-profit organization should ask themselves:
These are questions the leaders of non-profit organizations should be able to answer, but many times do not have the experience to do so or choose not to address. They need advice and counsel from the commercial vendors of products and services who have integrity and regard for the non-profits' best interests. At times, that counsel could be that their programs are not right for some non-profits. That's how a good reputation is made in any business. A good reputation and good living is made in any business when a vendor puts the needs of clients and customers first. Touting a product or service as the always quick and easy answer to the money needs of a non-profit is certainly not the way to do that.
We all have a responsibility to warn vulnerable and gullible non-profits to avoid the sirens' song, "Make more money than you will ever need. Turn down that foundation grant, stop begging, and market products for your organization." We know such lures can be attractive to non-profits unable to fathom how to face the hard and frustrating work of recruiting volunteers, identifying prospects, managing campaigns, and asking for money. Selling goods and services can seem easier. It may seem more comfortable to sell a product than to ask for money. We all have the responsibility to keep telling them that successful fund-raising is not based on a favorable comfort level.
Should you choose to sell a vendor's products or services to make money for your organization, I suggest that you insist the vendor provide you with the answers to the following questions:
I believe that product and service vendors should display regard for and knowledge of non-profit organizations' best interests when they solicit them as customers. I think those commercial enterprises should be the means and not the ends to help meet the needs of non-profit organizations. In other words, they should suggest workable treatment for the financial ills of non-profits, rather than promising quick cures.
Non-profit organizations in search of the money they need to carry out their missions must recognize that successful fund-raising cannot be achieved simply by working to give someone a product or service which is commonly available to them elsewhere in the marketplace. The money a non-profit needs must come from generous people who care about the organization and who see the reward of having supported it as value received for their gift.
And please remember, the good name of your organization is far more important than any financial gain. Whenever you associate your organization's reputation to a particular vendor or service provider, or the type of product and service you will be presenting to your constituencies, be certain to avoid embarrassment for less-than-tasteful associations and watch for any hidden potential for controversy. If at all possible, seek to match the commercial enterprise with your mission for a more acceptable and logical "fit," such as the Heart Association has with the maker of "lean cuisine" and the Arthritis Foundation has with the maker of aspirin.
About the Author:
Tony Poderis was for 20 years to 1993 Director of Development for The Cleveland Orchestra and its Summer Home, Blossom Music Center. He was responsible for Cleveland's largest annual institutional fund-raising campaign. Since 1993, Tony has been a fund-raising consultant serving all non-profit institutions' needs to develop and to maximize their potential to raise Annual, Endowment, Capital, and Sponsorship & Underwriting funds.
Tony's experiences have won him a wide audience. At many hundreds of seminars and workshops in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Mexico over the course of his 30 years in fund-raising, he has addressed every facet of raising contributed income for social service, medical, educational, religious, and cultural institutions. He is a fund-raising Speaker/Specialist consultant to the United States Information Agency and the Mexican Government.
Tony is the author of a 115 page book on fund-raising published by FundAmerica Press titled "It's a Great Day to Fund-Raise!" In this publication, he has condensed his nearly three decades of fund-raising experience to provide a concise step-by-step guide to help all volunteers and professionals be as successful as possible as they carry out their fund-raising responsibilities for their respective non-profit institutions.
Visit his web site at http://www.raise-funds.com for more information about his book and lots of other great fundraising advice.