Today's challenging economy requires nonprofit organizations to apply all tools that can help them raise funds without burdening their supporters.
Affinity marketing programs meet this criterion. They enable a nonprofit to partner with for-profit organizations which, through their business models, provide a "give-back" on the proceeds of every purchase made by the nonprofit's members or supporters.
When these products and services purchases are ordinary items such as wireless and digital-phone service, long-distance service, cable television, credit cards or insurance, the dollars can really add up.
Why then are so many nonprofits failing to maximize funds using this very viable tool?
Largely, it is because there are many misconceptions held about affinity marketing. Gaining a better understanding of affinity marketing should be a top priority for all nonprofit leaders.
Sit back, do nothing and expect the funds to roll in. Many nonprofits believe that once they enter into an affinity-marketing partnership their part is over. Not true. Nonprofits must take an active role in regularly communicating the program benefits to their members and supporters and educating them about its importance in advancing the organization's mission.
Putting all your eggs in the affinity-marketing basket. Affinity marketing does not replace other fundraising initiatives like funding campaigns, annual pledge drives or special-event fundraisers. It complements them. And when used effectively can significantly boost the funds generated through these other development tools.
For example, "For every wireless phone purchased during the next six months, our affinity-marketing partner will contribute an additional $10 toward the New Computers' Fund in addition to its 10 percent give-back on the proceeds of the phone sale."
Another nonprofit's failure will be ours. It is true that for every successful affinity-marketing program, there's one that has failed. However, it is likely these organizations did not approach affinity marketing with the right information and understanding. Like any other business arrangement, nonprofits must perform the necessary due diligence when considering an affinity-marketing program.
The affinity-marketing company matters less than its products and services. Both the affinity-marketing company itself and its products and services are relevant to the success of the program. Nonprofits should consider affinity-marketing partners that offer products and services with broad appeal to a large cross-section of their membership. Ideally, these products should provide a recurring revenue stream, for example, monthly payments rather than a single purchase price. However, regardless of how appealing the products or services are, if the company has poor customer service, the program will fail.
To ensure the right selection, nonprofits should seek out an affinity-marketing partner that emphasizes high quality in its products and services as well as its customer service.
A key qualifier should be a modern call center, equipped with state-of-the-art computers and phone systems and a robust customer relationship management software program. It should be staffed with fully-trained customer service representatives.
Additionally, the company should have an experienced in-house marketing team to help create effective marketing materials and advise the nonprofit on how to integrate their traditional advertising, Internet marketing, newsletter and direct mail to market the affinity program to its membership.
By following these guidelines and requesting references of nonprofit executives who can attest to the success of a partnership with a particular company, a nonprofit can sustain a successful affinity marketing program.
Stephen Halliday is president and CEO of Affinity4, based in Norfolk, Va., http://www.affinity4.com/.