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The Power of Promotional Products
The Power of Promotional Products

Using branded products to build your nonprofit brand – and give it staying power

Whatever you call them – swag, tchotchkes or giveaways – promotional products can help your nonprofit make a positive, lasting impression on your audience.

According to the 2016 Global Advertising Impressions Study by the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), branded products are one of the highest impact and most cost-effective types of advertising.

  • People in the United States own an average of 9.8 promotional products, and 85 percent of these recipients could identify the advertisers featured on the items.
  • Forty-five percent of people use a promotional product at least once a day. On average, a person hangs onto a promotional item for more than seven months.
  • Promotional products have a lower cost per impression – .07 cents – than TV, newspaper, magazine and mobile advertising.
  • Fifty-two percent of recipients had a more favorable opinion of the advertiser after receiving the promotional item.

Cost, marketing reach, response rate and staying power all matter in marketing, and promotional products won’t disappoint. Here’s what the right promotional items can do for your nonprofit.

1. Grow awareness. Distributing branded items at fundraisers, trade shows, advocacy events, fairs and other community events is a cost-effective way to gain visibility with your target audience.

Carol Mathews has seen this firsthand as director of Camp I.D.E.A.S., a summer activities program for children with special needs. "Every year, we design a T-shirt for our campers and staff," she says. "On the back of the shirt is a list of our sponsors. The shirt helps spread awareness of the camp – and the organizations that support us."

The creative T-shirts, along with branded thank-you gifts "associate the camp with something that’s good and very worthwhile," Mathews says.

2. Recruit members and volunteers. Promotional products can help fuel recruiting efforts. Attractive giveaways and unique branded items attract interest, giving you the perfect opening to share more about your cause and how members of the community can help.

3. Show your appreciation. A gift featuring your organization’s logo is a great way to show donors, volunteers, corporate partners and staff members you value them. Use promotional items to celebrate milestones, reward outstanding service and increase retention. The items should represent your brand well and be appropriate for the group you’re recognizing.

4. Raise money. Promotional products don’t just help organizations increase their visibility. Whether used as incentives, prizes or part of a swag bag, branded merchandise can help generate revenue while fostering long-term donor relationships. A 2014 ASI study revealed that more than one-third of respondents who received a promotional item – and could later recall the advertiser associated with the product – said they would likely patronize that advertiser in the future.

Logoed items are ideal for fundraisers including raffles, contests, bike relays and fun runs, where one of the goals is to generate revenue for your cause.

5. Keep your organization – and its cause – top of mind. A 2015 global study of consumer spending influencers found that 63 percent of consumers have purchased a product associated with a social cause in the past 12 months. Livestrong, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Make-A-Wish and many other nonprofits use branded merchandise to keep their missions in front of their intended audiences.

Choosing your go-to promotion

When it comes to choosing your branded products, industry experts offer the following advice.

  • Match the product with the goal. The size of the opportunity – from raising awareness to securing sponsorships – should drive your spending, says Jean Gianfagna, founder and principal of Gianfagna Strategic Marketing. Inexpensive branded items such as pens, magnets and wristbands are ideal for community events, while higher-end items such as custom laptop bags, business card cases or watches can attract dollars from big potential donors.
  • Practical can be powerful. Impractical promotional items don’t pack much of a marketing punch, so it’s important to offer branded items people need and will use, says Theresa Varos, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chattanooga. Wise investments include products that sit on a desk or countertop – or anything that is used regularly, says Varos, who markets to audiences ranging from college students to business leaders. These types of “sticky” products can include tote bags, water bottles, umbrellas, calendars and clocks.
  • Tangible marketing makes an impact – and it sticks. If you’re fundraising for your local Little League, sell baseball bat-shaped pens during your presentation. Generating goodwill for the Girl Scouts? Try bracelets adorned with a charm featuring the Girl Scouts’ iconic green logo. Your audience will appreciate the creativity and, more important, remember your message.
  • "Free" is a powerful motivator. Including a freebie – or gift offer – with your mailing can increase the chances of a favorable response, whatever your request. Elaine Fogel, president and CMO of Solutions Marketing and Consulting, also recommends sending thank you gifts to donors after they’ve made a donation. This “request first, reward later” strategy better supports donor retention, she says. For cost-effective ideas, check out these “9 Envelope-Ready Giveaways for Your Next Direct Mail Campaign.”
  • A good vendor is invaluable. A Google search for “branded promotional products” yields more than 1.5 million results. That’s why marketing experts like Gianfagna recommend finding a vendor who understands your mission and can make recommendations to help your organization reach its goals.

Key Tips and Takeaways

  • Spend on promotional products based on the size of the opportunity, saving more expensive items for your biggest potential donors.
  • Choose products that people need and will use frequently so your brand stays top of mind.
  • Send freebie items with a donation request or thank you note, which motivates extra goodwill for your cause.
  • Choose vendors for your branded products that are interested in building a long-term relationship with you and your organization.

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