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Non-Profit Fundraising Through Affiliate Marketing

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Sep 05

In 2013 some 230 billion in online sales were generated through affiliate marketing.

But most don’t even know what affiliate marketing is – or how it can help your non-profit. Most non-profit fundraising efforts focus on donations and events, however there are a number of other techniques to help grow a non-profits fundraising efforts outside of simple donations. Affiliate marketing offers one such outlet.

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is simply another name for a referral program. There are vast networks, individuals, and businesses, who are paid handsomely for connecting their existing audiences to great products or services. Many non-profits (Chambers of Commerce’s come to mind) already employ a similar technique, albeit in a more grass-roots physical kind of way, often calling their programs “Affinity Programs” where members receive special discounts on products or services of other members and the Chamber receiving a small commission on each transaction. Affiliate marketing is this online.

Affiliate Marketing

Our local Chamber employs such a program. If we utilize the payment processor they’re connected to, we not only get a great rate for payment processing, the Chamber receives an ongoing commission.

For businesses, affiliate marketing (or affinity programs) offer a great way to take a normal margin for more conventional marketing – and split it amongst organizations that could use a discount – and a non-profit that is in dire need of extra revenue (outside of conventional fundraising models). Spelled out more succinctly – if my product is $100, and I typically spend $20 on marketing, I can instead offer an affiliate program – allowing people that sign up to the program $10/off – and provide a $10/signup commission back to the person or group that connected me with the sale.

How Can Affiliate Marketing Help My Charity or Non-Profit?

This one is a little more tricky.

It really depends.

Every non-profit is different, with different goals – and when evaluating whether or not you should get involved in affiliate marketing, a little forethought goes a long way.

The first thing that comes to mind is that as a non-profit you probably have built an audience (email list, contact list, etc.) that is passionate about a particular topic or area of interest. If instead of looking at your non-profit fundraising efforts in a conventional sense (donations) it requires you take a slightly different perspective on what you have – and what you’re offering.

For example, if you run a non-profit dedicated to improving local environmental conditions – perhaps your audience would be interested in products that are recycled, or products offered by companies that directly give to your organization or give back through environmental-related grants. A non-profit I’m personally a part-of (Voices for Kids) assists children in the child-welfare program by assisting the Guardian Ad Litem program. Our children need stuff – clothes, shoes, beds, etc. – our organization could partner with a retailer to provide these items (purchased by donors) who could buy these items for our children and in addition through an affiliate program donate back to our organization.

The Non-Profit Business

One thing we’ve seen while working at, for, or alongside non-profits, is close-mindedness when it comes to “who they are.” Outside of an organization’s core mission and niche improvement of the world, many non-profits feel their job is simply to raise funds through donations. This is mirrored in their overall messaging and fundraising. However, we’d argue that a non-profit is like any business. Albeit one where the “profit” part is handled differently. And just like any business you have operating expenses, and revenue. And outside of fundraising how is revenue generated?

I’d argue most smaller non-profits don’t have an answer to this question.

Toms ShoesBut an analysis of the larger, more successful non-profits shows that’s through productizing one’s non-profit you can achieve far greater results. This means, what product are service are you offering as a non-profit. Not to service your end-goals (which are absolutely important and should be held paramount), but instead to your donors?

Non-Profit Fundraising Flipped on It’s Head – TOMS

Tom’s comes to mind. Their shoes are attractive and simple and as most of you know – through their “One for One” program – they donate a pair of shoes for every pair purchased. This has now extended to every product in the TOMS line, including coffee (where every bag purchased provides a week of clean water to a person in need). TOMS has productized their non-profit incredibly well. In fact, I’d argue they probably did this in reverse – how can we create a great company – and then do something good. Whereas most non-profits are the opposite – “how can we do something good?” (oh and how do we make/raise money?)

Affiliate marketing allows your non-profit to instantly product-ize through a partnership with potentially millions of retailers across the web. No product development, R&D, marketing, etc. simply get a relevant product in front of your audience, and receive compensation should a sale be made. On a small scale, most non-profits do this, by partnering with local restaurants for a percentage of sales on a given day.

So how to get your Non-Profit started in affiliate marketing?

Amazon Smile

Non-Profit Fundraising Amazon SmileOne service we keep hearing about again and again at non-profits we’re a part of is Amazon Smile.

What many consumers don’t know is that Amazon actually pioneered affiliate marketing, becoming one of the first merchants online to commission advertising partners if they helped drive sales to the massive online store. To this day this trend continues and constitutes a massive portion of Amazon’s yearly 75 Billion in revenue.

Amazon Smile is an extension of this – solely for Non-Profits, where-by a non-profit receives 0.5% of all transactions that it drives. The whole process is very simple – an organization must first sign up for an account and then markets that they’re now on the program. When a person committed to the organization goes to smile.amazon.com they are asked to choose a non-profit they are looking to help fund and BAM – from now on a portion of any purchase they make goes directly to the non-profit they chose. 

Sign up for Amazon Smile

What better way to help out then to purchase the items one was already going to purchase ANYWAY – and ensure that some of the proceeds go to one’s deserving charity or non-profit of choice?

The best thing about Amazon’s Smile service is that it makes the above scenarios incredibly simple. Since amazon has nearly anything one could imagine purchasing – they most likely have the products your audience is looking to purchase – and they’ve closed the loop allowing any non-profit to sign up quickly and begin receiving commissions on sales it helps drive.

The Key to Affiliate Marketing – Trust

When considering jumping into affiliate marketing, it’s important to realize that ultimately – your organization is just a conduit. You’re leveraging your existing connections, audience, and list of contacts – and connecting them with a product or service you think is appropriate.

But remember, to have built this list in the first place, you had to first build trust. You had to talk with these people, maybe you met them at a networking event, or they stumbled upon your website online and liked your message and decided to sign up for your email newsletter. Regardless of how they found you – they put some trust in you – and anything you decide to recommend in order to

Steps to Implementing an Affiliate Marketing Program for Non-Profits

So if you’re convinced, interested or intrigued as to how your non-profit can implement Affiliate Marketing as a tool to help increase revenue follow the following steps:

  1. Ask Yourself – Who Is My Audience?  – Take a good hard look at your audience. Not just donors, make sure to look at your entire audience, any organizations you work alongside, volunteers, etc. Who are they? What do they like? And what related products/services (related to your organizations goals) might make sense for you to connect with them?
  2. Investigate Various Products/Services – There are a number of large affiliate networks out there, that you can immediately join (for free) and begin investigating products and services that have affiliate programs. Take a look at CJ.com or Clickbooth.com as great places to start. Or simple do a Google search! And don’t forget, some of the products you already use might have affiliate programs via their website.
  3. Report to Stake Holders, Staff or Volunteers the New Initiative – It’s important that everyone know what’s going on as far as affiliate marketing. Many non-profits we’ve worked with have a Smile account, but because no one KNOWS they have it, people don’t use it.
  4. Make Sure to Include Disclosures on Your Website or Marketing Materials – Since 2009 the FTC has required that all affiliate links be disclosed on one’s site. You must make sure your audience knows that any product or service you promote may benefit you and your organization.
  5. Marketing – Integrate this new strategy into your marketing plan. Are you going to mention it at press events, in email newsletters, or simply on your website?
  6. Measure, Analyze, and Refine – Monitor your programs closely. If you’re sending an affiliate link to your donor list, did they click, signup, or purchase? And what was your net revenue from each campaign? Tracking and analyzing what happens will allow you to improve things over time.

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