It seems “The Long Tail” has its own tail. Since Chris Anderson first coined the term in a Wired article back in 2004, the concept has been applied to practically every product and market imaginable. It may sound outdated, but there’s still some knowledge to be mined there for fundraisers, especially as it relates to noncash giving.

Allow me to explain.

The Original “Long Tail”

In recent years, technology — and more specifically, the Internet — has helped savvy online businesses make money from low-demand items. One of the best illustrations of this is what Amazon did with books. The traditional brick-and-mortar bookstore has limited shelf space, so it tends to focus on stocking popular titles that will sell. Space constraints and the need to move stock combine to limit selection.

Then Amazon, which doesn’t have to worry about physical space limitations, came along and gave readers access to essentially every book ever published. It didn’t care what readers bought as long as they bought it from Amazon.

As Bezos and company soon discovered, there was enormous demand for books beyond the basic selection offered by the traditional bookstore. By tapping into that demand, Amazon not only captured the market for more obscure reads, it captured the lion’s share of the market for best-selling titles.

The Long Tail of Noncash Giving

How does the Amazon example apply to your organization and its fundraising practices? Well, we believe that noncash gifts could be the same kind of “long tail” opportunity for nonprofits that books were for the online retailer, not only giving you access to more donors but also enabling you to capture a larger portion of what donors are willing to give.

If you’re accepting only cash or credit card donations, you’re the equivalent of the traditional brick-and-mortar bookstore. You’re providing the option that the greatest number of donors want — which is the same option offered by every other nonprofit organization. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. But you’re overlooking an entire group of donors who have noncash gifts to give. Similar to our Amazon example, there is a demand out there waiting to be met.

Let’s look at it another way: By limiting your organization exclusively to cash and credit card donations, you eliminate your access to donors who’d be willing to make noncash gifts. And that means you don’t have access to the other 90 percent of a donor’s assets.

Why not adopt the mindset of Amazon, Netflix, and other successful online businesses and say, “It doesn’t matter what donors give to our organization as long as donors give to our organization.”

By accepting noncash gifts, you stand to:

  • increase the number of new donors to your organization;
  • unlock the existing demand for noncash giving by making it possible for those who want to donate noncash items; and
  • make your organization an even more attractive option for potential donors who have cash to give.

It’s a win-win. Your organization will see an increase in donors and donations, enabling it to further its mission. And your donor base will be able to make a greater impact on a cause they care about while also getting rid of items they no longer need.

Best of all, you’ll be deepening existing relationships with some donors and forging new ones with others.

Making the Most of Your Noncash Giving

Whether you’re already accepting noncash gifts or just looking to get started, here are a few things to consider:

  • Noncash gifts should be promoted right alongside donations of cash. If they appear as an afterthought, you’re missing out on making a holistic — and more compelling — ask.
  • Make it easy for potential donors to see the types of things they can donate. Just as Amazon has a recommendation engine, think about creating a donation recommendation engine. For instance, if someone donates an iPhone, make sure they know that they can donate other kinds of electronics and provide some examples of what your organization is willing to accept.
  • Make it easy for donors to share their donation experience with others. Most people aren’t aware of their options for noncash giving, so help your donors share that information through their social media connections.

For decades now, advances in technology have made it easier and easier for businesses to match supply with demand. Isn’t it about time nonprofits started doing the same for their donors?

First published in Philanthropy News Digest.