Don’t Toy With the Marine Corps
“They wanted to break even on acquisition — and that was unheard of,” Peters says. “But they had such a strong brand that they were able to break even and still grow the program.
“They were so sensitive to their history; they were willing to break even in exchange for slower growth,” he adds. “Not everyone can do that, but they had the brand strength. The public still thought Toys for Tots was worthy of their donations.”
Watching its pennies is another part of the Toys for Tots strategy; it takes a conservative approach to planning and budgeting.
“They only try one or two things per year,” Peters says. “They are very conservative in their accounting and the way they do business. The money they raise in ’08 becomes the budget for 2009. They have to earn it before it can be spent.”
Osman says that type of thinking goes hand in hand with the Marine background: “We bring that cultural background to the way we operate and those tough years — we have lived and learned. It’s a very responsible way to operate, and it is something that more organizations should probably do.”
Grein, who was there when the organization was struggling to get back on its feet, says he is most proud of how far it’s come.
“We were really struggling to make ends meet,” Grein says. “But our brand was so strong. We’ve always had our brand, which is something to be proud of.”
Toys for Tots whittled its expenses down to 3 percent of contributions. At the height of the scandal, expenses accounted for about 75 percent.
“To go from very insecure and struggling to the 66th largest nonprofit (in the country), according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy [2005 Philanthropy 400], is pretty amazing,” Grein adds.
Related story: Marine Toys for Tots Foundation