Retail Ready: Enhance Your Branding, Fundraising With Nonprofit Merchandising
Working with partners
Once you put a plan in place and your team has bought in, the next step is working with the right partners. This is true for any retail business, but it’s especially critical for nonprofit organizations that rely on the generosity of donors.
Working with suppliers, consultants or other vendors that see their reputations sputter due to improper practices could mean a public- relations nightmare for your nonprofit. That’s why every nonprofit must be diligent in its vetting of partners.
The Salvation Army has an internal evaluation process for any partners and opportunities it considers taking on, and part of that process is seeking out partners that share its vision, core values and desire to make a positive impact on the world, Stutts explained. That’s something every organization must do—and something the Smithsonian takes seriously.
“Protection of the Smithsonian brand is first and foremost,” said LeBlanc. “Make sure you’re always protecting the brand. Due diligence is to research them and look into whether or not there are any practices that would be inconsistent with the mission.”
In addition, there are more specific, retail-centric principles nonprofits must look for. Howell suggested looking for people in the business who have a reputation for quality and the ability to consistently deliver your needs at a fair price. In addition, use references in the marketplace, and test out a campaign with a provider.
On the licensing side, the Smithsonian looks for partners who can develop products on its behalf and sell those products to retailers, so it focuses on partners that have a track record of developing and distributing products.
And as with anything in the business or nonprofit world, the right partnerships are mutually beneficial. As LeBlanc noted: “If only one side is winning, it can’t be successful.”
That means building a relationship over time and working to make sure both parties make a fair profit, Howell said.
“To approach it in a different way is not very good business sense,” he added. “To continue to change vendors for a lower price is not something we’d chase.”
Building and maintaining these relationships takes work, of course—work that can catch many nonprofits off-guard. The number of man hours it takes to manage these relationships is significant. “People sometimes underestimate the time and resources needed to appropriately manage relationships so they reflect the brand and message of the organization,” LeBlanc explained. “They look at the dollar amount, but are not really factoring in the time.” That’s something every organization should note.
Of course, relationships can always change—and your partners may not operate the same way in the future as they did when you started with them. That’s why the Smithsonian builds clauses into its vendor contracts that allow it to exit the relationship if it feels its brand could be harmed. It’s also why the Smithsonian spends a lot of time selecting the right partners, and talking to multiple people and divisions across the organization, including the legal team, public affairs and museum staff. “It’s an ongoing challenge,” said Howell. “You have to be diligent on a regular basis. You can’t let it go. You must look at it constantly to make sure your partners are not shifting their manufacturing practices.”