5 Pillars of Nonprofit Brand Safety
How do you promote your nonprofit? There’s traditional advertising in the form of TV, radio, print and digital. There are interactive experiences, such as in-person events or webinars. Perhaps you’ve worked with social media influencers as brand ambassadors. And then there are promotional products—which are ranked the No. 1 most effective form of advertising to prompt action across all generations, according to Promotional Products Association International (PPAI).
In fact, PPAI’s “2017 Consumer Study” found that nine in 10 people who receive branded merchandise recall the branding, eight in 10 recall the messaging and seven in 10 recall the call-to-action. With this kind of influence, it’s no wonder you’ll find promotional products being used in all kinds of ways—everything from brand awareness, employee relations and PR to business gifts, trade show giveaways and charitable donation thank-you gifts.
While these promotional powerhouses are effective, not all branded merchandise is created equal. If you’re like most people, you assume that the products you buy are manufactured responsibly, of high quality and don’t contain substances that could cause harm. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case—and any mishap could negatively impact your hard-earned brand reputation (just ask the Spice Girls about the charity t-shirts they created for a campaign to empower women and demand equality that were made in a sweatshop).
These kinds of mishaps are extremely damaging to nonprofits and organizations with missions to improve the quality of life for a group of constituents or right the wrongs of injustice. Promoting these kinds of causes with irresponsibly sourced branded merchandise that could potentially cause physical harm, induce sickness or violate human rights goes against the very reasons these organizations exist.
Additionally, for nonprofits that have members, it is equally important to educate them on the importance of responsibly sourced branded merchandise so they, too, can protect their brands. In the event one of your members has an incident with a promotional product that violates your organization’s standards or ethics, it not only negatively impacts the member company’s brand reputation, but it also affects yours by association.
This rationale also carries over to nonprofits that host trade shows, education seminars and other kinds of events. Promotional products are highly effective at increasing booth traffic, making it even that much more vital to educate exhibitors on the importance of sourcing branded merchandise responsibly.
While it’s not unreasonable to expect the merchandise used to support your organization to do so without posing risks to recipients or the organization itself, you must do the due diligence to ensure this is actually the case.
5 Pillars of Brand Safety
How do you mitigate potential danger and protect your nonprofit’s brand? Understand the problems and be prepared. The issues around brand safety can be divided into five pillars.
1. Social Responsibility
With the vast majority of promotional products as a whole or their component parts being manufactured overseas, there are serious issues with workers’ fundamental rights being violated. As light is being shed on many atrocities (such as these internment camps in China and these abusive labor practices in Pakistan), it is becoming increasingly important for nonprofits to make sure they are working with vendors whose factories have documented worker safety and protection programs, fair pay, and proper physical working and living conditions.
2. Product Safety
Product safety is just that: Ensuring products, as well as any decorating materials, are manufactured or designed so they’re not dangerous to people or property when used. It’s a seemingly simple concept, but there are complexities. Safety also encompasses being able to meet any applicable regulatory standards for safety, labeling, environmental protection and other legally required standards and limits.
For example, promo products are classified as consumer products, and as such, they are required to comply with all the same federal requirements outlined by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Additionally, some states have their own laws (most notably, California’s Prop 65), and these regulations can be even trickier to handle.
3. Product Quality
When designing and manufacturing a product, there are many attributes that must be replicated during manufacture—everything from the material, color and size to logo placement—all within established product safety standards. Moreover, the key to quality is working with vendors who are able to consistently achieve these requirements for every lot or batch made.
4. Environmental Stewardship
We only have one Earth, and the production of promotional products shouldn’t do damage to the health of the environment itself or the people within that environment. Recycling may be the most recognizable kind of environmental stewardship program, but this also encompasses restriction and monitoring for banned substances as well as resource management.
5. Supply Chain Security
An often overlooked category, supply chain security, is more important than many realize. Having a secure supply chain minimizes any delivery disruptions, while working in tandem with law enforcement authorities to combat terrorism, illegal drugs and arms trade, human trafficking and other criminal activities.
Protecting Your Organization’s Brand
While there are many considerations when it comes to brand safety, the breadth and depth of the issues can seem overwhelming. How can you tap into the power of promotional products and keep the verification of product safety and responsible sourcing from becoming your full-time job?
Start by having an in-depth conversation with your current vendors. Ask the tough questions about their policies and procedures; request third-party audit documentation; inquire about recall processes. Are you comfortable with the information provided? If not, it may be time to weigh your options.
If your current vendors can’t answer your questions or provide the kind of documentation you need, there are resources for finding vendors that are well versed in product safety and responsible sourcing within the promotional products industry. One such resource is Quality Certification Alliance (QCA), the only coalition dedicated to ensuring accountability and independent validation of corporate responsibility throughout the promotional product industry’s supply chain.
QCA Accredited Suppliers have a proactive comprehensive compliance program in place to protect the brand equity of end-user clients. They have completed rigorous independent third-party audits and comply with stringent standards, which are based upon a combination of state and national laws, international standards and industry-accepted best practices that are recognized for their strength and effectiveness. Asking your promotional products distributor to use QCA Accredited Suppliers is a great first step to getting you the documentation you need to make an informed decision about the products used to promote your nonprofit.
If you need a promotional products distributor, QCA has a directory of Distributor Advocates who can help. These promotional consultants recognize QCA as the standard by which industry firms consistently deliver socially compliant, safe, high-quality and environmentally conscientious merchandise. Together, the Advocacy Council, QCA Accredited Suppliers and users of promotional products are forming new levels of collaboration to effectively ensure supply-chain transparency and control that protects brand reputations.
By working with vendors who have established policies and procedures in place to ensure brand safety, you’ll not only get the assurance that the branded merchandise you use is safe and compliant, but you’ll also save time in managing the process.
Don’t let any uncertainty about the safety of branded merchandise keep you from tapping into the power of promotional products. Find vendors who can meet your demands by responsibly sourcing the items you want and delivering the brand safety you expect.