Whether or not we want to admit it, local, charitable, nonprofit organizations are in competition for local dollars with businesses that need to turn a profit to stay alive. School bake sales take customers from the bakery, church fund-raising meals siphon diners away from restaurants, and amateur sales of arts, books and crafts, while they may “bring people to town,” also mean a lower register total that day for retail shops. But what’s obvious to an entrepreneur is not necessarily obvious to someone who has never been in business.
There are two questions here. First, how can nonprofits support their causes without undermining business? Second, how can business contribute to their own and nonprofit success? Fortunately, victory doesn’t have to go to one side only, if both are aware of each other’s needs. But if we’re going to be members of a community, we need to come together on how fundraising is done.
One of my suggestions is that a local organization might solicit one-day discount fliers from shops and restaurants to distribute them at their event site. I would be happy to note on each flier the total spent by that customer and make over 10% to the group’s project. (My wholesale discount on new books is only 40%, but I generally offer a 10% discount on special orders–books I don’t have in stock but order by customer request—in order to build my clientele.) Being able to partner with local projects and concerns would be a great source of satisfaction to me. Being part of a community is important to me. I care about this place and these people!
For years I tried to establish a partnership with the school library, but despite all the publicity and word-of-mouth I could give the idea, it never gained more than half a dozen participants. I now believe that such partnerships take community support, effort and coordination, not simply one merchant’s uphill struggle.
The nonprofit board member with whom I had “the conversation” this morning suggested, in her turn, that nonprofit event planners need to look not only at who will be helped by a specific fundraising project but also who might be harmed, so that unintentional harm can be avoided. That’s a dawning of awareness! My voice was heard!
July 2010 will mark the beginning of my eighteenth summer as a small-town bookseller. Life would certainly be easier if all a bookseller had to do was open a bookstore and welcome the bibliophilic crowds eagerly beating down the doors, but, unfortunately, business rarely works that way. We need to put on that public education cap from time to time, also.
So I encourage other booksellers to “have the conversation.” Find a sympathetic ear and present your case calmly and dispassionately. Explain, don’t complain. Listen in turn. Done right, the conversation should come out win/win. Don’t we all want to be part of the solution?
Dog Ears Books
106 Waukazoo Street
P.O. Box 272
Northport, MI 49670
[editors note: at a church sale not that long ago we made a donation of a few surplus boxes of books and the organizer was more than happy to put out a stack of our flyers at his checkout table]