How Amazon Can Help Your Non-profitIf you work for, or support, a non-profit, you know that the organization exists to do great things. Whether it’s helping to cure a disease, feed the hungry, educate kids, or whatever, you believe in your cause.

But causes need money in order to operate. That means that in addition to doing great things, non-profits also need to spend time raising money and donations. Unfortunately, when the public looks at many non-profits, that’s all they see. We get their letters in the mail, their emails, their phone calls, all telling us of great needs and how dire the situation is.

Non-profits need money in order to do great things. Sadly, the great things often get lost in the shuffle, even if it is only as perceived by donors and potential donors. And no one likes asking for money, especially over and over again.

One thing I’ve noticed about donors is that while people want to help, they’d often like to help in other ways, rather than just writing a check or giving out a credit card number. The problem with giving money is that you don’t always know where it is going. Is it actually going to the “great thing” that your organization is doing, or is it paying for office supplies or other administrative costs. Now, you and I know that those administrative costs are important and necessary. Without them, the “great thing” won’t get done. But high profile news stories of highly paid non-profit executives, or low percentages of donations actually getting to the people who need it the most.

One way around that is to accept donations of goods or items. This is one of the reasons why homeless shelters and food kitchens often do better with accepting non-perishable food items. People can go to a store, buy some items, and donate them, knowing exactly how they’ll be used.

Amazon is now making this a lot easier, and giving your donors the chance to donate real items that you need, right from the comfort of their own homes.

If you haven’t checked Amazon in some time, you might be surprised that the brand known for changing the bookselling industry also sells pretty much everything else under the sun; toys, jewelry, clothing, major appliances,food, and even fishing boats. There’s almost nothing you can’t find on Amazon, and that’s good news for non-profits.

Water Street Ministries in Lancaster (client) is using a relatively unknown feature provided by Amazon, that allows non-profit organizations to create “wish lists” of the items they need. For Water Street, that includes items like diapers and books for children. This is just a start for them, and they can expand as they see fit.

Another local non-profit, Clare House, has a list that includes a wider variety of items, such as toiletries, household cleaning supplies, and even bus passes for our local mass transit company, to help their clients get around.

The beauty of this is that you have more control over what gets purchased. When it comes to food and other household items, non-profits often have very specific guidelines listed on their website about what to buy and what not to buy. Some of these might be because of dietary restrictions, or knowing what will get used and what won’t. If an organization needs diapers, they might need a specific type or size. If they need food, they might not have a use for a four pound jar of pickled pigs feet, or a big ol’ tin of duck liver. Yes, you truly can find anything on Amazon!

By creating a wish list, you are directing people to exactly the items you need, and all they have to do is click to order. If they already have an Amazon account, their credit card information might already be stored, making the process even more simple. No need to write a check and no need to go to the store or even drop off the items. This is great for donors who might actually live outside of the non-profits local area.

Here are a few tips on creating and using Amazon’s wish list feature for non-profits:

1. Be specific – Take the guesswork out of the process and remove as many sources of error as possible. If you need a certain article of clothing, select the exact sizes and colors that you need. As you select items you can even include the quantity needed, which will update as donors purchase them. And for those items that might not seem obvious, you can include an explanation of why you need them. For instance, Clare House lists a number of clear storage boxes on their wish list, with the explanation, “Help us to stay organized!”.

2. Focus on those items most closely associated with your “great thing” – In other words, if your non-profit works with animals, include things like pet food, flea medicine, leashes, and the like on your list. Sure, you can include office supplies, but your donors support your organization because of the work you do on the ground, not necessarily in the office. And if they purchase the items most closely associated with your cause, it will free up real money that you can use for the office supplies. We all know that the office supplies are necessary, but your donors are probably more interested in seeing their dollars used for things other than pencils and toner cartridges. But again, that doesn’t mean you can’t include those.

3. Make multiple lists to play to donors’ passions – Perhaps you have different divisions and different areas of need. You might find it useful to break those lists up to make them more manageable, or to reach the people who are most interested in certain areas. For instance, my clients at Water Street do a lot to feed and shelter the homeless. But they also work with young children and teens in their other divisions. Someone who has a particular burden for kids might be more interested in those items as opposed to sheets and towels for the homeless shelter. Let people give where their hearts are.

4. Make your list public – On Amazon, you can make the list private to just those who have a link. There might be some reasons a non-profit might do this, but in most cases you should make it public so anyone visiting Amazon can search and find it.

5. Share it – It doesn’t do any good to make a list and not tell anyone about it. My son made a wishlist of books he wanted, and made sure that he sent us all a link. You need to do the same. I found both the Water Street and Clare House links in my Facebook news feed. You can send the wishlist out to your email database, post it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social platform. You can even use it as a way of creating boards of your needs on Pinterest. The list should also be posted on your website. And don’t forget offline methods as well; direct people to your list in printed materials and newsletters, as well as on site. A well placed QR Code can take donors there via their smartphones while they’re out and about.

6. Inform your corporate and business partners – If local businesses are using Facebook, make sure you let them know so that they can help you share your list to a wider audience.

7. Revisit your lists often – Your needs may change throughout the year, and you may have different specific needs during different seasons. Feel free to add and remove items as you see fit, based on your demand over time. You don’t want to get too many of some products, and not enough of others. These lists can be altered and updated at any time.

8. Use them to tell your storyYour nonprofit has a story that needs to be told. By visually expressing your needs, it allows you to talk about the work that you are doing, and gives donors an understanding of how they are a part of that story. You can even come up with some way of rewarding your donors, by letting them say,

“I helped feed a dog for a week”

or,

“I helped provide food for a family for a week”

or even,

“I helped someone get an education and a new job”

Those are just off the top of my head, but concrete donations can translate to concrete results. Your donors will understand this better than if they write a check with no knowledge of where the money is being used.

9. Follow-up and cultivate – If you can identify those who made a donation from your wishlist, make sure you thank thank them and add them to your database. If they are first time donors, this might be the way to get them in the door to becoming regular donors, as well as cash donors. A simple, single donation of a pack of diapers might be the start of a bigger relationship.

Think of these wishlists as a bridal registry for your non-profit. Inform your donors of your needs, and see what happens!

For more information, check out Amazon’s Tools for Non-Profits and also their tutorial on how to create a wishlist.

Have you ever used these Amazon wishlists for a non-profit before? What type of success have you had? Are there any other websites with similar features?