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A New Life For Leftover Products
A New Life For Leftover Products

4 ideas for your nonprofit's surplus promotional items and supplies

Your nonprofit organization's big membership drive has just ended. And a few feet away from the balloons and streamers, your deflated director sits in her office, pondering what to do with 100 unopened boxes of fluorescent-orange "We Love Our Members" pens.

Old supplies and promotional items accumulate throughout the year, but that doesn't mean your supply closet should be filling up with dusty boxes. These surplus items can have a new life beyond their initial use, and with a little creativity, generate even more awareness – and money – for your cause.

Here are four ways for your nonprofit to put leftover giveaways and other extra supplies to good use.

1. Donate them. Unwanted promotional products still have plenty of value, says Tracy Keenan, former development manager at Goodwill Industries of Akron.

"The first rule is, 'Don't throw anything away.' Everything can be reused, recycled or repurposed," she says. "There is always a group, organization or individual that will find your leftover items useful."

Start with other nonprofits in your area.

Julie Weagraff, director of fund development for the Girl Scouts of North East Ohio, says her organization happily accepts surplus supplies. "Companies and individuals regularly donate fabrics and craft supplies that our girls can use to make projects," she says.

Find local nonprofits through the GuideStar Nonprofit Directory, a database of more than 1.8 million nonprofit organizations nationwide.

Other great landing spots for extra items include:

  • Thrift shops – Clear out extra inventory and give back to your community while you're at it. Use the website Donation Town to find charities that will pick up your donated items for free. (And don't forget to hang on to all receipts; they could be your ticket to an IRS tax deduction.)
  • Community events – Champion a cause by sponsoring a local fundraising event. Examples include walk-a-thons and 5Ks, bike relays, craft fairs, carnivals and cook-offs. Giving away or raffling off extra products — from water bottles to gift baskets — gets your name out in the community while contributing to cancer research, animal adoptions or another worthy cause.
  • Classrooms – Pens, highlighters, notebooks, even stress balls will make the grade in most classrooms. Contact your local school district or a nearby charter school to offer your budget-friendly freebies.
  • The internet – Looking for even more ways to donate? Start with a visit to freecycle.org, a great place to find local people who need what you have to give. Powered by a network of nearly 7,000 volunteers, FreeCycle claims to be "the largest recycling and reuse website in the world."

Keep in mind that donated items can benefit recipients in more ways than one.

"As a nonprofit, any time we get a donation of an item that we would otherwise have to purchase, we are able to take those dollars and move them into another area of need," says Keenan, director of development at Hudson Montessori School in Ohio. "Any offset of expenses is a huge help. For our school auction, we ask our parents to donate baskets, basket filler, basket wrap and more. We use everything that is donated, which equals extra fundraising dollars."

2. Revisit, then reuse. As long as your promotional goodies aren't decorated with an outdated event logo, Keenan suggests salvaging them for tradeshows, social media contests and thank you gifts.

Another idea: Include a giveaway with every letter you send to a new or prospective member. This kind of direct-mail marketing will increase awareness of your organization, while helping you empty dusty boxes in your supply closets.

Raffling off items at an employee or member event is another option. Free giveaways are always a great way to put smiles on faces and boost morale.

3. Reimagine, then repurpose. Flooded with Frisbees? Tired of looking at last year's T-shirts? Have a surplus of pencils? Thanks to creative sites such as Pinterest, you can transform a seemingly ordinary item into something fresh and fun.

So, turn those Frisbees into plate holders, T-shirts into tote bags and pencils into picture frames. Then, sell them or raffle them off at the next holiday party, fair or community event.

4. Recycle. When it comes to giveaways, sustainable is the way to go. Before you order your organization's next promotion, shop around for products made from biodegradable materials such as wood, paper and cotton. Letdown alert: Those smiley-face stress balls you had your eye on are likely made of polyurethane, which requires special recycling.

Promotional items that are environmentally friendly should follow The Green Guides, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.

Not sure whether your items can be recycled? Waste Management’s website, Think Green, will tell you.

Leftover products shouldn’t feel left out. Use them wisely by donating, reusing, repurposing or recycling as much as possible. With a little extra effort, you can gain more exposure for your cause, reduce clutter and find extra room in your budget for future products.

Key Tips and Takeaways

  • Consider donating leftover supplies to groups, organizations or individuals that can use them.
  • Salvage old promotional items to use for tradeshows, social media contests and thank you gifts.
  • Get crafty! Transform leftover supplies into new products to sell or giveaway at your next event.
  • Whenever possible, purchase sustainable items that be recycled when you're finished with them.


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