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06 Mar

Retail Innovation

Retail Innovation

Retail sales is a powerful and diverse revenue stream for nonprofit organizations. While some organizations are savvy in their approach to retailing or merchandising, other organizations are not fully realizing this important revenue stream. Let us take a look at three key points when thinking about retail innovation.



It is clear that there is a lot going on in the retail space, both online and in brick and mortar stores. It can be difficult to stand out and attract new customers or compel customers to visit your retail space regularly. Visiting often is referred to making frequent “trips”. 

In order to stand out, the organization should start with your loyal supporters and participants. Start small and gather reviews to improve your standing. After establishing a key audience, it is helpful to collaborate with a social media expert and implement a modest budget to promote your retail space to others in similar organizations or similar communities. 

The easiest way to compel your customers to make frequent “trips” is to make sure it is required to provide an email address for those shopping the retail space. Utilize these email addresses to announce features or special items that have arrived in your store. While I don’t recommend discounts, sometimes the organization wants to clear old inventory and reducing the price can be an easy to move items quickly. This is also a strategy to create frequent trips when properly marketed. 



The organization’s choice of merchandise should be a wide selection and not limited to mugs, t-shirts, and hats. Some items help brand the organization and can be worn or displayed at events or community functions. An organization can partner with donors and corporate sponsors to have items donated for sale. Similar to a raffle at the annual gala, retail merchandise can be acquired through donations. The IRS requires the organization to keep track of all in-kind items donated in addition to providing proof of the items value. This proof can be obtained from eBay, amazon, or other retail sources. Proof of value protects the organization and the donor from complications or over-valuing items that create concerns and investigations from the IRS. 

Another source of merchandise can be partnering with other retailers, products, services, or other online products. These items can be weekly features in your retail space and the organization can effectively market these unique or popular items to their supporters to create more trips. 

When the organization is able to partner with an organization that provides merchandise or services, the organization can enter into an agreement that features the products in the retail space or the organization can receive financial incentives for every sale. For example, if you are a lung health organization and provide a special mask, produced by a separate company, and feature it in the retail space, the company who makes the mask can provide $5 to the organization for every mask sold. 



Customer service is paramount to a successful retail operation. Providing payment options, fast delivery, and customer service for questions or issues is essential. Some organizations hire a company that manages this operation. Other organizations need to provide resources to ensure the customer’s shopping experience is something to brag about. Engaging the customer can be achieved through emails, phone calls, and thoughtful communication when the customer contacts the organization for assistance. Creating a separate team of employees or volunteers to manage this process in addition to managing inventory can improve the success of any retail operation. 

Other nonprofit organizations purchase retail software that automates the customer service process by sending email confirmations, thank you emails, and placing calls or texts to engage customers. While technology has a cost, this can be covered by marking up the retail items providing sufficient margin to the organization. If you are not sure how to best engage customers, ask an expert. 

While there are more than three solid strategies to achieve retail innovation, organizations should consider options to maximize the retail space. Experts in this field can assist the organization in marketing, design, and customer service. Don’t be shy or use lack of funds as an excuse. Experts pay for themselves in this retail space and other aspects within the organization’s needs. 

Brad Lebowsky, MBA


Connecting people, communities, and resources to grow exempt organizations.

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