How One Nonprofit’s Unique Local Strategy Raises $40K/YearMarch 31, 2014 by Chantelle Wallace
Effective fundraising is a challenge every nonprofit faces. Requesting repeat donations is particularly difficult—supporters receive numerous contribution solicitations, which means your organization must find a unique way to stand out and capture their attention.
Emancipet, which aims to make spay/neuter services and preventive veterinary care available to all pet owners, regardless of their ability to pay, is successfully doing just this with its Sit Stay Day kits.
Since 2011, Emancipet has delivered these kits to participants around Valentine’s Day—the perfect time to celebrate the love that pets bring to people’s lives.
The Sit Stay Day kits are the nonprofit’s second largest fundraiser, and getting bigger each year: in 2011, they raised $27,000, while in 2014, they nearly doubled that, raising $43,425.
The kit’s contents, which include things like locally-brewed beer, chips and salsa, dog biscuits and more, are obtained through partnerships Emancipet has developed with local vendors. These vendors donate items in exchange for the publicity the kits receive and the opportunity to have their product sampled by those who purchase the kits for $175—all of which goes to supporting Emancipet’s programs.
Emancipet creates only 250 kits each year. They’re made available to the general public in January via social media posts and e-newsletters, and are sold online on a first come, first served basis.
A Tweet announcing the Sit Stay Day kit
To better understand how other nonprofits can create similar mutually-beneficial fundraising partnerships with local companies, I spoke with Emancipet Chief Development Officer Jill Lally, along with several businesses that contributed to the kits. Here, we highlight best practices other nonprofits can use to achieve similar success.
Cater to Your Supporters’ Preferences
The idea for the Sit Stay Day kit originally came in part from another nonprofit, GENaustin, which provides high impact programs for teen girls. GENaustin’s Gala in a Box was one of their most successful fundraisers. It contained items such as martini ingredients, reservations at high-end restaurants and chocolates—the idea being to bring a “gala” to supporters instead of asking them to attend yet another fundraising event.
Similarly, the Sit Stay Day kit’s theme is, “Because Staying In is the New Going Out,” and its contents are designed to keep owners and their pets satisfied indoors on Valentine’s Day. It’s a ‘non-event’ that allows them to contribute to a good cause while staying put.
“The Sit Stay Day kit allows them to stay home with the pets and people they love most. We bring the party to them,” Lally explains.
Emancipet’s Sit Stay Day kit
Since Emancipet’s supporters tend to care about their community and the environment, the kit’s contents are sourced from local food and beverage companies that Emancipet approaches about participating.
While some of the kit’s contents and participating vendors do change each year, many companies have contributed consistently since 2011, including Taurus Training, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Whole Foods Market, Austin Pets Directory and The Container Store.
Align Your Mission With Vendors’ Core Values
Whole Foods Market is a large (yet also locally-based) donor, and contributes multiple items from their signature 365 Everyday Value products to the kit each year, including pasta, parmesan and salsa. Rachel Malish, Austin media and community relations coordinator for Whole Foods Market, says the company appreciates that the kits contain local products it sells on its shelves, such as KIND Snacks and Shiner White Wing Beer.
While Whole Foods Market is approached by many charities requesting contributions, Malish says it chooses to support those that can show how their cause relates to the company’s core values.
Emancipet’s mission aligns with Whole Foods Market’s value of serving and supporting local communities by providing preventive companion animal veterinary care to all, regardless of finances. Additionally, the company is headquartered in a pet-friendly city (Austin), and regularly hosts dog-related activities such as Yappy Hours. When Emancipet approached them about donating to the kit, it was clear doing so was a natural fit.
Similarly, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which has donated a bottle of its famous liquor to the Sit Stay Day kit since day one, is known for its philanthropic and dog-loving team. It’s also based in the same part of East Austin as Emancipet—an area whose significant stray-dog problem Emancipet aims to mitigate with its spay/neuter services.
In fact, Tito’s has rescued 32 of the area’s homeless dogs and had them treated at Emancipet prior to putting them up for adoption or turning them into resident distillery dogs. When Emancipet asked the company to contribute a bottle to the kit, they were more than happy to do so.
Make Your Request Reasonable
The Sit Stay Day kit team has a staff lead and an active committee of volunteers who request product contributions from businesses the nonprofit appears to have a natural connection with. They also do a lot of cold calling, which is often successful. “Austin businesses are generally happy to help out animals,” says Lally.
The Sit Stay Day kits have earned many media mentions since starting in 2011, which provides an incentivizing benefit for businesses considering participation. That being said, asking companies to donate items for free can still be challenging, and the Emancipet team tries to be mindful of making their ask beneficial for the business.
This is why Emancipet only makes 250 kits available each year: asking some of their smaller vendor-donors for 250 units of their product would make it impossible for them to participate. Some businesses are only able to offer partial donations, which is why the contents of each kit can differ slightly.
Shweiki Media has been responsible for the kit’s printing needs since its start. Dave Reimherr, head of Shweiki Media’s sales and marketing department, says the company’s involvement with Emancipet stems from their passion for pet rescue and welfare.
While the Shweiki team cares about many causes and would love to contribute to more, Reimherr says they have to be selective about the charities they choose to support. “You can’t pro bono yourself out of business,” he says, adding that the residual business that often comes from contributing to causes such as the Sit Stay Day Kit can provide companies with growth that allows them to give back even more in the future.
An example of Shweiki Media’s printing work for Sit Stay Day kits
Use Publicity and Recognition to Say Thank You
Once the kits have been created, Emancipet uses social media, food blogs and columns, TV spots and their e-newsletter to let people know it’s available for purchase. This publicity push also serves as positive public relations and advertising for the 67 vendors who donate to this year’s kit, getting their brand name out there and associating it with a good deed.
“There’s a reason cause marketing is a popular topic,” says Reimherr. “It’s a great strategy to gain new business, and helps answer the customer question, ‘Is this a company I want to give money to?’”
For example, when a magazine Reimherr’s team had been trying to pitch learned that Shweiki had helped Emancipet with printing, they were suddenly open to talking about working together. And a client that was no longer using Shweiki’s services got back in touch when they learned of their involvement with Sit Stay Day.
Malish says that even when the Sit Stay Day kit marketing push is over, Emancipet continues to update their supporters and sponsors on how the money raised from the kits is being used to advance Emancipet programs. The nonprofit also finds ways to creatively thank sponsors on social media.
Emancipet’s picture tweet, used to thank Taurus for participating
“We pride ourselves on taking great care of our supporters,” says Lally. “Businesses get social media plugs, inclusion in the kit guidebook, acknowledgment in a thank you ad in the Austin Chronicle, and, of course, their brand delivered directly into the hands of 250 of our supporters.”
Beth Bellanti, relationship marketing manager at Tito’s Handmade Vodka, says the company relies on word of mouth for much of its marketing, so getting people to try their product is a significant source of new business.
“We don’t keep numbers on how our charitable contributions have benefited the business’ bottom line, but it’s certainly allowed our product to be sampled by a lot of people, and that’s significant for the business,” Bellanti says.
While “win-win” fundraisers like Sit Stay Day kits can yield significant benefits for nonprofits, Lally cautions organizations not to underestimate the soft costs of putting on these events. “The expense ratio looks great on paper, but the amount of staff and volunteer time is huge,” she says.
Emancipet staff members spend six months prior to Sit Stay Day pitching vendors about participating and arranging details for their donation. Additionally, volunteers and staff are needed to retrieve items, assemble and deliver the kits—all of which requires a significant amount of time, talent and coordination.
That being said, Lally says the amount of positive public relations and awareness about Emancipet the kit generates makes it well worth the effort.
A canine recipient investigating a Sit Stay Day kit
Photos courtesy of Emancipet.