I met Elaine Fogel a few years ago when she organized a conference in DC. I’ve been impressed with her commitment to nonprofits and her knowledge of promotional items. (I call it schwag.) So I asked her if she’d write a post on how nonprofits can use them effectively. When she’s not blogging here, she is a professional speaker, writer, marketing consultant and president & CMO of Solutions Marketing & Consulting LLC, a boutique marketing agency that serves nonprofits and smaller businesses. The company also distributes promotional products as part of its product and service mix. You can reach her on Twitter @Elaine_Fogel

Elaine Fogel headshot with her guest blog post on how nonprofits can effectively use promotional products

Three Ways Nonprofits Can Use Promotional Products Effectively

by Elaine Fogel, President & CMO Solutions Marketing & Consulting, LLC

Most fundraisers and nonprofit marketers share one major objective – to raise more money for the mission! And, with the thousands of fundraising marketing options available today, where do promotional products fit?

Called by many names: advertising specialties, swag, promotional items, branded goods, chotchkes (Yiddish), giveaways, promotional gifts, advertising gifts, or promotional merchandise, promotional products can help your organization accomplish many of its goals – some related to external audiences, and some internal.

Here are three ways to use promotional products effectively:

  1. Build brand awareness

    Giving out appropriate promotional products offers a simple and inexpensive way to leverage your organization’s brand and keep its name and reputation in front of its target markets. When donors and volunteers carry tote bags, wear T-shirts, or use everyday items with your nonprofit’s logo on them, they are sending a message of support for your mission.

    As with most consumer products, the more visible your logo and name are in the communities your organization operates, the more people will recognize the brand. The more they recognize it, the greater the odds in responding to “an ask” or event invitation or stimulating a conversation about the mission.

    There are many opportunities to distribute promotional products for brand awareness:

    • Advocacy events
    • Community fairs/trade shows
    • Contests prizes and promotions
    • Fundraising events
    • Public events

    One word of caution here. For larger crowds or quantities, don’t buy cheap items that are likely to break or fall apart quickly. That will do nothing for your brand. Know your audience and what they will use and not throw away. Items like stickers, pins, clips, wallet-sized calendars, pens, pencils, golf tees, and magnets are a few of the less expensive giveaways. If children are part of the audience, there are countless kid-focused items that parents will appreciate.

  2. Demonstrate appreciation and recognition

    Nonprofits can never say thank you enough and recognize the people who contribute to their success. Showing regular appreciation to your special donors, volunteers, funders, corporate partners, and employees can help keep them motivated and committed to your cause.

    Awards and plaques can be especially valuable to business partners that display them in their offices and to individuals who will place them proudly in their homes. However, if the product is cheaply made or is unattractive, it will defeat the purpose and the recipient will either give it away, toss it, or put it away.

    As with many things, price often determines the item’s quality and appeal. There are many stunning products available today that are bound to impress, as well as affordable pieces that are pleasing and well made.

    Award Examples:

    Image of a nonprofit award that is Multi-toned Moonstone finish Stonecast plaque with realistic wood grain finish.

    Multi-toned Moonstone finish Stonecast plaque with realistic wood grain finish.

    Image of This free-flowing award  has cobalt blue-toned veining and rests on an ebony optical glass base with a mirrored reflector. Each piece is  hand made and signed by the artist.

    This free-flowing award has cobalt blue-toned veining and rests on an ebony optical glass base with a mirrored reflector. Each piece is hand made and signed by the artist.

    Ensure you send appreciation gifts to donors after they’ve made a gift and not before. Some newer research indicates that using promo products as up-front incentives may actually be counterproductive to donor retention.

    For major gifts donors, special volunteers, and other worthy recipients, there are many quality products in a range of prices. Use branded items that are useful, represent the brand well, and are priced to suit the specific group.

    In the accompanying thank-you note, remind recipients that whenever they wear or use their appreciation gifts, they are helping to advance your organization’s mission. That way, you can reduce any misgivings about the cost.

    In addition to appreciation and recognition, there are many similar opportunities to use promotional products:

    • Holiday gifts
    • Milestones
    • Retention
    • Rewards
    • Stewardship
  3. Generate additional revenue

    Some entrepreneurial nonprofits sell their branded goods online and at events to generate additional revenue as well as build brand awareness. There are companies that can manage online sales and fulfillment on your nonprofit’s behalf if employees cannot. Typical sales products include mugs, T-shirts, hats, drinkware, bags, and office accessories.

There are a few statistics worth noting when deciding on promotional products.

  • Nearly nine in ten (87%) recipients of promotional merchandise can identify the advertiser on the item.
  • Over one-half (52%) of the time, ad specialties leave a more favorable impression of the advertiser.
  • Promotional products deliver the same or a better ROI than other forms of media.
  • About eight in 10 (81%) of product recipients indicated that an item’s usefulness is the primary reason to keep it.
  • The products that leave the most positive impression and that recipients keep longer are: outerwear, shirts, recognition items (awards, plaques), caps/headwear, flash drives, health and safety products, desk/office accessories, and bags.

Promotional products give your nonprofit an affordable way to build goodwill, demonstrate appreciation and recognition, make a few bucks, and gain brand name recognition. According to Professor Ian Bruce, founding director of the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at London City University’s Cass Business School, “The name is so important because it is a shorthand for everything you do and stand for.”

Chart on how recipients feel about the advertiser

©2012 Advertising Specialty Institute®

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