More Than a Wish, Creating Successful Nonprofit Wish Lists

Do you shut your eyes and make a wish before you blow out the candles on your birthday cake? child blowing out birthday candles

1. Determine a Goal

Wish lists, depending on your needs, can achieve different goals. Do you want your list to encourage people who support your organization to become donors? Or, is your list only 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? Or do you want people to buy items?

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 goal is to reduce its operating costs, offer easy avenues for visitors to become donors, and help visitors see the center as a second home.

2. Be Flexible

Over time, the goal of your wish list may change. At first, an animal shelter sought to obtain office and shelter furnishing for their new site. Once these items were in place, they requested consumable items, including pet food and kitty litter.

3. 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 regularly.

4. Time Frame

The best items for wish lists are resources that you need, but not immediately. Ask for a frequently used shed to be replaced once the one you have starts to show signs of wear, not when it’s falling over.

5. Measure and Experiment

Measure your results. Review your requests each quarter to determine which items were received. In one case, a nonprofit that needed baby food and other infant items found they had a great response to the first quarter. After this, the response declined.

The nonprofit switched the wish list to office consumables. They partnered with several local service groups to obtain the needed baby food items and asked their members to bring them to their monthly luncheon as an ongoing service project.

6. Paint A Picture

Include more than the item’s name on your list. Add the details donors 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 an animal shelter, but less so for a Meals on Wheels Program that offers pet food with its deliveries.

7. Short and Sweet

People will skim your list of 10 to 15 items but ignore a 50-item list. The second is just too needy.  Select fifteen or fewer items at a time. Replace these with new items as you receive the initial ones.

8. Keep It Fresh

To obtain a better response, vary the list. If after six months you haven’t received an item, remove it. Find another way to fund it.

Your wish list is a great way to get resources for your nonprofit and save your precious cash for what only cash can buy.

More Resources on Wish Lists, Nonprofit Revenue, and Leadership

Read more about how nonprofit organizations succeed with fundraising:

Most important, check out Karen’s CEO Solutions Librarya collection of resources for nonprofit CEOs and executive directors to answer your questions about nonprofit leadership issues.

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