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IV. MERCHANDISING: BASIC PRINCIPLES

1. Keep production costs absolutely as low as possible. Whenever you can, sell free, donated merchandise. If you canít get donated goods, sell low-cost, expendable merchandise.

2. Research potential buyers and the forums in which you can reach them.

3. Consider an auction or raffle to increase your income from special merchandise.

4. Before launching any long-term, high-investment merchandising plan, seek advice from marketing professionals.


Amnesty groups have long relied on merchandise to generate income, but some have lost money using this approach. Be careful about investing large amounts in a big merchandizing scheme: is there another, less risky way to make money? If youíre absolutely committed to the idea, get expert advice before you start.

Companies may approach you to sell magazines, candy bars, or other products for a percentage of profits. As a rule, AIUSA does not recommend such partnerships. Most of the money will go to the company, which operates for profit, not charity (despite what they may tell you). And Alís name is risked through close association with a company we know little about. Marketing your own products will generally get better results.

 

FINDING A MARKET

Here are some questions to consider:

Should you publicize the sale? If so, go back to Section II on "Visibility," for ideas.

NOTE: If your state has a sales tax and you havenít registered to collect this tax, itís illegal to advertise things for sale. In forums such as your newsletter, offer benefits rather than merchandise ("For a $25 donation, you can get this T-shirt").

Where are people most likely to buy? Consider piggybacking onto a popular event (more info on this in Section V). One idea: Mindy Steuer of Group 283, Sacramento, Cal., reports that the Grateful Dead open their concert parking lots to any vendors who want to set up shop.

WHEN will people buy? Small gift items sell in the fall, before the holidays; tourist-oriented items are good in the summer; sugary snacks sell during mid-afternoon breaks rather than at 8 a.m. (well, OK--it depends on customersí breakfast tastes.)

Do local or state laws apply? For example, if your state has a sales tax you may need to register. If you plan to prepare food, check license laws for food preparation.

Donít forget the group sales column in Amnesty Action (see Resources section). Group 87 in Columbus, Ohio, makes an average of $700 each time they advertise their shirt styles to national members.

 

SELLING DONATED GOODS

This is a no-lose proposition and the reason why bake sales are an old favorite. You CANNOT LOSE MONEY selling brownies and cookies your members gave for free. And who can resist chocolate chips?

FOOD SALES. Group 122 in Santa Fe has raised up to $400 on a bake sale. Tom Gill of Davis, Cal., says their group doubled their income on bake sales when they stopped putting prices on anything! Instead, they request donations. For every jerk who gives them a nickel for a brownie, two other people throw in a dollar bill.

EGG SALE. Using this technique, the group at Edward G. Murrow High School in New York raised over $100 in three hours with only seven people. Volunteers went to House A and asked if the occupant would donate an egg to Al, then went to House B and asked if the occupant would buy an egg from Amnesty International for whatever price they felt was suitable. They also handed out Al literature.

BOOK OR MUSIC SALE. Like a yard sale (see below), but exclusively books or second-hand cassettes, albums, and CDs. The Tacoma, Washington group asked members to bring paperbacks to the next meeting; the group sold the books to each other for 50 cents. Tacoma AC Virginia Hatch notes, "Small scale, but zero effort."

SINGLE OR "LONELY" EARRING SALE. Get donations from people who wear earring pairs and have odd ones lying around because the twin is lost. Sell them to people who wear only one earring or have an extra piercing in one ear.

GARAGE/YARD SALE. Jane Jerome of the Palo Alto, Cal. group reports that they make $2000 to $2500 off their rummage sale, held every other year in September, when Stanford students return. "All the members spend the summer asking friends who are moving or cleaning house for donations, which we store in a garage. Leftovers are donated to Goodwill."

Group 88 in Tucson, Az., suggests asking donors for articles appropriate to the time of year. After their summer yard sale it took months to sell some ski equipment!

Hereís a report from Group 133ís yard sale in Somerville, Mass. Their sale lasted from 10 to 4 on a Saturday in mid-September.

"Donations for the sale came from group members. We made $750 even though there were no Ďbig ticketí items like furniture. For the site, we chose a memberís yard, on a busy side street with lots of pedestrian traffic and cars, but easy for people to pull over quickly and park.

"We placed a newspaper ad and hung bright, easy-to-read signs at all the nearby intersections and in front of the house. Put large arrows on them!" The group also hung flyers at a nearby Saturday market.

"Planning and materials needed: minimum $50 in bills and change; lots of steady tables; clothing rack (clothes sell better on hangers); price labels (mark everything!), paper and safety pins for pricing items when labels wonít stick; cash box; newspapers to pack fragile items; assortment of bags; separate table for Amnesty literature and petitions, with something to hold these down so they donít blow away.

"Tips: Hang some signs around the area a few days before the sale. Set a rain date. Also, contact other Al chapters to solicit donations and customers. Arrive early! The first 20 minutes of our sale were total pandemonium, things were not yet unpacked or priced and customers were aggressive. You need twice as many volunteers in the morning as in the afternoon. Have a separate cashier table and make sure someone watches the cash at all times. Keep small, valuable items (like jewelry) someplace conspicuous where they can be watched."

 

SELLING INEXPENSIVE GOODS

If you invest in merchandise, think small. It is often easier to sell 20 pencils or buttons for $2 each than two posters for $20 each. As a rule of thumb, you should sell the goods for 1 1/2 to 2 times their cost to you. If this makes the price outrageous, comparison-shop for a better deal.

Expendable items are even better. After selling people stationery, pens, or food (also services; see Section III) you can turn right around next month, or next year, and sell them the same thing again.

Whenever you buy anything for resale, ask "Do we like it? Would we buy it?" If not, think carefully about what you will do if you end up with many unsold items. Refunds are mandatory. It is the buyerís prerogative to return an item.

All Amnesty groups can use the image of the candle in barbed wire and the Picasso sketch of an imprisoned man visited by a dove. You must get permission to use other images on merchandise. For local designs, it is a good idea to sign a written contract with the artist.

Some merchandise which Amnesty groups have tried, with varied rates of success:

· note cards

· postcards

· stickers

· notepads, memo pads

· candles

· friendship bracelets

· flowers (can a member grow them at home? how about herbs?)

· buttons

· bumper stickers

· magnets

· mugs

· cups

· T-shirts

· sweatshirts

· bike caps

· baseball caps

· headbands

· shorts

· socks

· patches

· key chains

· pins

· homemade earrings

· pens/pencils (great Al tie-in!)

· Valentines

· stickers

· gym bags

· tote bags

· posters

· artwork

· music cassettes

· balloons (please note: Amnesty has a policy against balloon releases, which injure sea animals and birds when the balloons fall back to earth)

PUMPKINS. Group 223 in Ohio sold pumpkins they raised on land loaned them by a local farmer. An almost free fundraiser.

HANDMADE BUTTONS. A group in Minneapolis bought a button-making machine and designed simple buttons in several sizes. During a meeting, group membersí children colored the buttons so each one was different. By spreading the buttons out on a table to show that each one was unique, the group sold the buttons rapidly at $2 apiece (mostly in a local mall).

COFFEE AND DOUGHNUTS. Group 61, U. of Michigan, writes, "We raised $257.73 by having a three-day coffee and doughnut sale in the lobby of a major classroom building. It took three people to staff the table during the heaviest traffic, between classes, two selling and one keeping the tea and coffee supplied. The table was open from 8:30 a.m. to noon. We made coffee in a 100-cup urn, replenished from a 30-cup urn. Hot water for tea was available in another 30-cup urn.

"Each day we sold 35 dozen doughnuts and used three pounds of coffee, 50 teabags, 400 napkins, 200 sugar and 130 creamer packets, 200 stirrers, and 250 cups! We kept Al literature on the table, made a number of friends, got some small donations, and got at least one new active member for our group."

FORTUNE COOKIES. The group at Governor Livingston High School in New York made $100 selling Amnesty fortune cookies. They bought 500 cookies from a local Chinese restaurant for $15, then stuffed them with personalized Al fortunes. The cookies sold two for 25 cents.

T-SHIRTS. T-shirts, clothes, and totebags usually require heavy upfront investment. Be sure your design is good and youíre not running the group into massive debt! As a rule, set the price between 1 1/2 and 2 times what shirts cost you. If this is a price you wouldnít pay, youíre paying too much for the shirts--look elsewhere. AIUSA has a special deal for inexpensive T-shirt printing from member Rick Roth of Mirror Image, Inc., 251 Albany Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, (617) 864-8502.

Several student groups have held "Tie Days": pay a fee, get a shirt and tie-dye lesson. Shirts with an Amnesty message have the added benefit of future publicity.

 

CHRISTMAS TREE SALES

This is a door-to-door sales effort which works for a number of non-profit groups. In October, locate a Christmas tree farm willing to sell cut trees for, say, $10 each, on Dec. 3 and Dec. 10 (possible Human

Rights Day tie-in!). Locate a truck for free use on the same two dates. Then make up a receipt entitling the bearer to a freshly-cut tree on one of the two dates, to be picked up at a central location. (Make sure receipts canít be easily photocopied; itís best to number them and record buyersí names.) Sell the receipts door-to-door, through your school, or at other events. Sign up volunteers to work each date. Take the volunteers in the truck to the Christmas tree farm, load the trees, take them to the central location, and help customers locate and load their trees.

 

AUCTIONS AND RAFFLES

These are great ways to make even more money on donated merchandise. NOTE: many states require a license for a raffle.

AUCTION EXTRAVAGANZA. The Seattle cluster has made thousands of dollars with its annual auction of donated goods and services, preceded by a dinner. They get the donated labor of a professional auctioneer and hold the event in the fall (traditionally a strong time to fundraise; many people bid for items to give as gifts). Donated items have included use of a canoe for a weekend and dinner for four cooked at the buyerís home.

SILENT AUCTION OF UNIQUE SHIRTS.

The College of William and Mary group in Virginia got a local T-shirt store to donate 1 5 shirts, then asked 1 5 student artists to decorate one on an Amnesty theme. They displayed the shirts for a week in the campus center (behind glass) with a bid sheet posted. A passerby could outmatch the last bidder by writing down his/her name, address, and bid. Two shirts sold for $30 each; the group raised over $200.

ART AUCTION #1. Group 467 in Los Angeles, California, cooperated with a local art gallery for a successful auction. The

group charged $25 for admission to a "sneak preview" the day before the galleryís semi-annual auction. They publicized the event with an invitation to the galleryís mailing list and the Al list (postage donated). At the preview, prominent restaurants donated food and several donated artworks were auctioned. The group made several thousand dollars on the auction, several hundred on admission. They report that "good relations and clear, regular communication with the gallery are a must."

ART AUCTION #2. Groups in Denver and Boulder, Colorado, paired 24 artists with 24 current prisoners, requesting a piece of art that reflected the case. During the five-week exhibit groups held a pop concert and a play (see "Resources").

ART SHOW/AUCTION #3. Joe Tuchinsky of AIUSAís Conscientious Objector Support Network suggests holding an art show or auction and putting a "vote box" in front of each piece of art for donations. The work winning the largest amount of money is designated "show favorite" and the artist wins a plaque or prize.

AUCTION #4. To aid an imprisoned political cartoonist in Uruguay, Group 467 got Paul Conrad (L.A. Times) and Garry Trudeau to give cartoons for an auction. Coordinator Stan Lieberson says, "OK, so this is L.A. and the cartoonists were very well known; but even in smaller cities the local paperís cartoonist would be well known. The atmosphere of an auction is fun-filled and positive."

CELEBRITY AUCTION. The Weslyan University group raised $1 ,007 this way. They wrote to musicians (from Randy Travis to the B-52s) asking them to donate an item for the auction. (Addresses are in Whoís Who in America, American Biography magazine, and fan mags.)

Gabriel Kasper, coordinator, says the group used a computer mail/merge to generate 1 60 request letters and got 21 responses. After this they publicized the auction on colorful flyers with questions like, "What would you pay for an autographed R.E.M. videotape?" A prominent campus figure served as auctioneer.

NOTE: Before contacting celebrities, check with the regional office to make sure multiple parts of Al arenít bombarding the person with requests. Celebrity auctions are becoming popular and celebrities are less willing to give. You could try sending an album cover or other object with a postage-paid container, so they can just give their signature and return the item. For sports figures this is standard protocol.

STORE RAFFLE. Sarah Stewartís group in Berkeley, Cal., got a local gift shop owner to raffle "a choice of any item in her store." Both the store owner and the group sold tickets; the group got the money, the store got great publicity.

Another Amnesty raffle organizer notes that people are more likely to buy a ticket when you offer many small prizes, rather than one big prize, because their chances of winning something skyrocket. Smaller prizes may also be easier to obtain.

An even bigger project: the Santa Fe group asked a local natural foods grocery store for an in-kind donation. The store offered to hold a Five Percent Day: the Al group got 5 percent of the whole dayís profits! This was $1 ,705, and the group made more money by selling memberships and buttons at a table in the store.

 

MERCHANDIZING EVENTS

Some sales cross the border into "events." For pancake breakfasts and opera evenings, we move on to Section V...

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