Retail Ready: Enhance Your Branding, Fundraising With Nonprofit Merchandising
No matter the mission, size or location of the organization, nonprofit professionals always are looking for ways to increase their fundraising numbers and invest more dollars into making the world a better, safer place. One way to do that is through nonprofit merchandising.
With the technologies at every organization’s disposal these days, there’s no shortage of ways nonprofits can incorporate merchandising into their plans: online stores, brick-and-mortar storefronts, pop-up stands at events, mobile sales applications, etc. These new tools make managing and running a retail element more realistic than ever.
However, merchandising is far from new in the nonprofit space. Take, for instance, one of the most well-known and longest-running nonprofit merchandisers out there, The Salvation Army.
William Booth founded The Salvation Army in London in 1865, and from the start has used retail sales and merchandising to grow its reach and impact, said Robert Stutts, director of development of the Adult Rehabilitation Centers Command for The Salvation Army USA Southern Territory.
That commitment to utilizing merchandising to enhance The Salvation Army’s mission continues today. Drive through just about any town in the U.S., and you’re bound to come across a local Salvation Army store.
“Today, The Salvation Army operates Family Stores throughout the U.S. that provide an affordable marketplace for shoppers while also providing funding for our vast array of social-service programs,” Stutts said. “Simply put, participation in the retail space was a natural fit for The Salvation Army, as we raise money critical to transforming lives each and every day.”
Stutts said those Family Stores have helped The Salvation Army build its brand in areas where it may not otherwise have a presence, and as a result, more people interact with and support The Salvation Army.
Along with The Salvation Army, the Smithsonian Institution and its various museums and zoo are also big players in the nonprofit merchandising space. Not only does the Smithsonian have gift shops at its museums and a standalone brick-and-mortar store in Washington, D.C., but it also has a comprehensive online store encompassing all its entities. In addition, the Smithsonian has a licensing division, another revenue-generator for the organization dedicated to the arts, history and animal welfare.
And while the money the Smithsonian generates through its retail sales is significant, there are additional benefits to merchandising.
“It puts the mission and brand in front of more people, whether visiting our brick-and-mortar store at the mall or the online store,” explained Ed Howell, senior vice president of the Smithsonian’s retail group.
“Merchandising also allows us to communicate with people at a deeper level, sometimes,” added Carol LeBlanc, senior vice president of consumer and education products at the Smithsonian. “People may see something at the museum, and our products allow us to add more educational details and highlight things that can’t be on display. Merchandising allows you to extend your reach in a way that is not possible through just a museum.” Of course, there’s a whole lot more to successful nonprofit merchandising than just clicking a few buttons to set up an online shop or obtaining the real estate to open a storefront. There must be a strong strategy in place.
Joe Boland is a former member of the NonProfit PRO team and currently serves on the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board. He is a frequent contributor to the magazine.