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More Than a Wish, Creating Successful Wish Lists

August 11th, 2009

Do you shut your eyes and make a wish before you blow out the candles on your birthday cake? Wishes are great, but most people agree that getting your wishes is even better. To obtain wishes for your nonprofit organization’s, instead of candles and a cake, use a wish list. This tool collects your needs for tangible items in one place and shares them with others who can help. Wish lists can help you to engage new and existing donors and obtain everything from puppy food, to printers for your support staff and even large pieces of equipment, like fork lifts and freezers. Wish lists offer donors a concrete way to contribute. Use the following tips to create and publicize your lists.

Determine a Goal

Wish lists, depending on you needs, can achieve different goals. Do you want your list to encourage people who support your organization to become donors? Or, is your list to provide consumable items that your organization would normally buy? Is it to collect items that people have around their offices and would be happy to donate if they were aware of your need?

You might use your list to make progress on several goals. For example, a Retreat Center’s list encourages people who visit to bring along items to donate. It includes a mixture of consumables (twin bed sheets) and items to enhance guests’ stays (recent bestsellers). The Center’s goals are to reduce their operating costs, to offer easy ways for visitors to become donors and to help their visitors see the Center as theirs.

Be Flexible

The goal of your wish list may change over time. At first, an animal shelter sought to obtain office and shelter furnishing for their new site. After a year, they switched the contents of their list to consumable items, including pet food and kitty litter.

Gather Ideas From Everybody

Wish lists are a great way to have all of your team members, including volunteers, identify tools and items that would improve your services. Assign one individual to be the “Keeper of the List.”  Ask them to listen for and solicit ideas on a regular basis.

Time Frame

The best items for wish lists are resources that you need–but not immediately. Ask for a frequently used shed to replace the one starting to sag–not the one already collapsed.

Measure and Experiment

Measure your results. Review them each quarter to determine which items were received. In one case, a nonprofit that needed baby food and other infant items found they had great response to the first quarter. After this the response declined. The nonprofit switched the wish list to office consumables. To obtain the needed baby food items, they partnered with several local service groups and asked their members to bring these items to their monthly luncheon as an ongoing service project.

Paint A Picture

In the list include more than the item’s name. Add the details donors will need to obtain exactly what you need. Include the amount, color and size information, i.e., a dozen white twin bed sheets vs. bed sheets. Include an estimated price (some people will give cash.) For unusual items, consider a picture. Unless it is obvious, mention why you need it. The need for cat food is obvious at animal shelter, but less so for a Meals on Wheels Program that offers pet food with its deliveries.

Short and Sweet

People will skim your list of 10 to 15 items to see how they can help, but skip a 50-item list. Select fifteen or fewer items at a time. Replace these with new items as you receive the initial ones.

Keep It Fresh

You will obtain a better response if you vary your list. If after six months you haven’t received an item, remove it and seek it from another source.

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