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Promotional Products:
How Non-Profits Can Avoid a Public Relations
Nightmare When Buying

by Heidi Thorne

Let's say you're launching a fund raising campaign for a children's welfare organization. You've decided to distribute an imprinted T-shirt as a thank you gift for donations. Great idea that could help spread the word about your work as the shirts are worn in the community. So you find an attractively price T-shirt online. Prices like that will help you save funds for your cause. But wait! That inexpensive price may turn into an expensive public relations nightmare. Here's how...

You might be thinking that because it is cheaper, the problem may be that it is poorly constructed or uses lower grade materials. Yes, that might be possible. But more importantly, the shirt's material or construction could have been produced in an environment or in a country that allows child labor. In the 2009 U.S. Department of Labor's List of Goods Produced by Child or Forced Labor, a dozen or so countries were reported as having incidences of child labor for cotton production and three were noted for garment manufacture. These are serious fair trade issues that are beginning to take center stage in the world marketplace.

Imagine the backlash in the press, on Twitter, and in blogs that would result from you, as a children's support organization, using a promotional product suspected to be made by child labor. Ouch! Your campaign will quickly go from fund raising to defense which will eat up much needed funds for your mission.

In a similar scenario, organizations that support green efforts would be well advised to look at how green their imprinted giveaways are. Groups that support American workers should also be careful. Many flag-waving promotional items are made outside the United States' borders. You get the picture. Whatever item you choose to market your organization must be made with materials and labor that mirror your values. Even if you are not with the organization itself, but are just a sponsor, you will be doing yourself and the group you support a big favor by selecting giveaways that are aligned with the cause.

What can help you avoid this public relations nightmare?

  • Clarify Your Mission, Message, and Values - Be very specific about what you are trying to accomplish and what is important to your organization.

  • Determine What is Unacceptable - Knowing the message you are trying to communicate, determine what aspects of a product would be contrary to that. Supporting children's welfare? No child labor. Starting an ecofriendly campaign? No petroleum-based plastic products.

  • If in Doubt, Ask - If you cannot readily determine the fair trade or eco-friendly status of a promotional product, ask your distributor. If he cannot provide you with adequate documentation or certification (such as for fair trade or organic status), it would be recommended to continue looking. Similarly, he should be able to provide the country of origin for the item in question.

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About the Author:

Want to know how "green" your promotional products are? Get the Green Promo Product Score Sheet, developed by Heidi Thorne, which is available for free download at Then when it's time to shop for your next eco-friendly giveaway, head over to

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