4 Ways to Help Your Nonprofit Ride the Subscription Box Wave
These days, it seems like there’s a subscription box for everything—from snacks to skin care to dog treats. In fact, websites for subscription boxes received 800 percent more traffic in 2017 than in 2014. Even Condé Nast, the media giant, is making a name for itself in the subscription space.
This past summer, GQ became the brand’s fourth big-name publication with a limited-edition box. Jill Friedson, head of brand marketing and strategic partnerships for Condé Nast, explained, “We’re trying to diversify our revenue.” Other companies looking for new sources of revenue—especially nonprofits—should take their cues from Condé Nast.
While nonprofits and large media companies have different business models, both can have wide audiences, and both are always trying to “diversify their revenue.” And while subscriptions might seem too costly or difficult for nonprofits, when curated and operated correctly, they can complement a nonprofit’s mission, keep supporters connected to the organization’s work, provide value and increase donations.
Nonprofits Can Join the Subscription World
There aren’t many nonprofits making use of all subscription boxes have to offer. Several subscription boxes—such as Mission Cute and Causebox—give back to charity, but few subscription-commerce programs are launched and managed by nonprofits. Nonprofits with a large supporter base and potential to activate media should consider connecting with donors through more than just written updates, events and social media.
Every subscription box program should offer a mix of a sense of belonging, surprise, value, exclusivity, replenishment and a representation of the organization that curated it. Each delivery should include a meaningful connection to the nonprofit’s mission.
Nonprofits considering subscription programs should consider these tips:
1. Evaluate Your Audience Size
Before starting a subscription box program, it’s vital to know whether your nonprofit has a big enough audience to sustain it. Do you have a large email database of current and past supporters or large social media following and engagement? Can you engage with supporters through sufficient media channels to acquire subscribers at a low cost? Can any of your sponsors or partners help you reach large audiences?
I’m the president of a small, local nonprofit, and our overall reach is not large enough to support a subscription box program. But nonprofits with thousands of contacts in their databases have the potential to glean real value from a subscription offering without having to spend dollars on media.
2. Carefully Curate a Mission-Based Experience
Consider what kinds of products and experiences your members are interested in. Getting a packaged delivered regularly isn’t enough—you need to provide subscribers with high-quality products and experiences that tie into your mission and solve a problem, not items they can easily find on Amazon.
The experience should extend beyond the products to affect all parts of the program. The unboxing experience, the written collateral inside and any personalization will all help. Customer service is also vital, so ensure your team and your partners understand your mission and how to resolve any of your supporters’ concerns. You don’t want to lose a donor because of a bad customer service experience.
3. Determine Your Margins—and Where You Can Partner
Establish a simple subscription-based financial model, and figure out margins based on the price point of your box and the total cost of goods, including fulfillment costs. Curating subscription boxes gives you a better connection with your supporters, but if your ultimate goal is revenue, it’s important to build in a margin to justify the work and investment needed.
Ideally, brands and companies who already support you will also collaborate on your subscription program and be able to provide goods at low cost or help amplify your message. Find and activate partners who can help with website design, product procurement, PR, packaging, recurring billing, fulfillment, customer service, data,and any other task that seems daunting for your organization to handle.
4. Launch, Test and Tune
Launch and test your subscription program, measuring responses and successes. Give yourself enough time to see whether subscribers will stay around for several deliveries, and be willing to tweak your service and adjust your offerings according to customer feedback.
Based on the results, consider marketing via different channels. Those channels might involve partners or even paid media if you’re seeing positive ROI. Use your data to fine-tune your subscription offering and target audiences to reach more of your mission’s best supporters.
There’s no reason nonprofits should miss out on subscriptions’ wave of popularity. Keep your best supporters and donors apprised of your organization’s work and in touch with your mission by curating a subscription box. They’ll not only love getting a surprise in the mail—they’ll know they’re supporting a worthy cause.
Jeff Miller is director of marketing at OceanX, which is reinventing the membership economy by transforming customer-brand interactions and providing a powerful engine for subscriptions. Jeff is also the president of Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that heals at-risk kids and injured military personnel via surfing and ocean therapy.