Printers and Other Nonprofits

Is it worth calling on a nonprofit? I go back and forth on this subject.

Nonprofits spend money but their frugal and often quirky ways tests the patience of their vendors.Years ago, I sold a job to the American Red Cross in Framingham, MA and then got a letter from their president asking me to return all profit made on the job as a gesture of goodwill. This after putting me through the ringer and sending my idea out to bid. A different gesture came to mind and I politely declined.

I think that experience soured me but I’m willing to open my closed mind and have another look, if only for 415 words:

The case for “No!”

  • They are, by definition, in the business of squeezing every dime of profit out of a purchase.
  • They get multiple bids on every job and are more price conscious than the average bear.
  • They have a reputation for being data-strong but data-unorganized. That is, they often have good mailing lists but those lists are not up to date and often inaccurate.

The case for “Yes!”

  • In every problem, there is an opportunity: There is money to be made by working with a nonprofit to help them straighten out that bad list.
  • Nonprofits are typically tied to other nonprofits. Do a good job with one and you have a networking opportunity.
  • Nonprofits are also unusually loyal. Despite their “three bid mentality,” nonprofits will stick with the company who can prove their worth and deliver results.
  • Another nice thing about nonprofits, as Kelly Mallozzi and I have noted in a recent Short Attention Span Webinar, is that nonprofits that have ties with local companies will give you access to those firms that you would not ordinarily receive. Company decisions on whom to support are made at the top. Get involved with a charity and you’ve got a good shot at reaching that C Level decision maker.

I’m not sure if four bullets in favor and three against will change my mind, so I’ll let you decide for yourself. They sure do use a lot of print. If you can put up with their idiosyncrasies, perhaps they are worth the pursuit.

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  • Steve Counts

    Thanks for sharing about non-profit organizations. DPI Printing has a longstanding relationship with non-profits in the Springfield, MO area. It works for us because we are heavy digital and meet the demands for "event" printing.
    As for non-profits being ‘cheap’ that varies from group to group and really is a philosophy of the Executive Director. Non-profits are no different than other customers who sometimes want a deal.
    It really comes down to how you deal with it. You also need a good answer to the question, "Will you donate?” My answer is NO but I do not say it that way.
    I tell people that I make it a practice not to donate my companies printing because that affects the profits and therefore all the employees. I tell them I will consider an individual donation of either money or time or both, (just like any non-printer would). That’s what I say and sometimes I get the business and sometimes I don’t.
    We happen to be very good at short run, impossible deadlines and non-profits are notorious for last minute jobs.
    One last thing, when asked for a contribution I give the above answer but add we always give FREE advertising for any major event in our printed newsletter that goes to over 400 businesses in the area. That seems to soften the NO.
    Steve Counts
    Springfield, MO

  • Mary Beth Smith

    I’ve worked with numerous not-for-profits for over 20 years, and never pursue the small organizations because they simply have no budget. However, with the large successful ones, I have noticed a few things that make pursuing them worthwhile:

    1. While cost can be a factor, predictability is also a factor. If you show them the value that you bring to managing their print needs, their data, and meeting their deadlines at a reasonable, predicable rate, cost per se is not generally an issue.

    2. Successful non-profits communicate with their donors and prospects frequently. In addition to your print offerings, if you’re able to help them develop their digital and social communications, you bring a great deal of value to the table.

    .3. If they are heavily focused on print communications, it’s important to help them realize that their printed pieces are frequently the only means of being "face-to-face" with their donor base. Quality stock and professional design enhance their credibility with their donors and send the message that if you manage your communications this well, you are likely managing other things well.

    4. All non-profits exist to promote a mission through education. When you take their mission personally and help them educate and promote it, they’re less likely to ask you to donate your services. Frankly, I’ve never had a large non-profit use me based on whether or not I donated my services or made an in-kind contribution. If they use professional procurement practices, they simply would not do that.

    So…if it’s a really big fish, do your homework and go for it. If not…move on!
    Generally, you will do better to focus on either national corporate headquarters or large complex local organizations, such as universities, hospitals, and municipal offices. Many times, they are not required to go through their purchasing dept and bid process for jobs under a certain dollar amount, which can be as high as $5,000 in some instances. In those cases, the reason a department will go through purchasing/bid process is simply because they don’t know the resources themselves. A savvy sales rep will go make lots of friends in municipal offices so that they DO know where to order things themselves. I lost a bid for 5,000 pocket folders once over a mere .0025 difference per unit. The end user could have bought directly from us with going through purchasing – just didn’t know where to procure. Lesson learned… :)