Raiser's Edge

Tricks of the Trade

Fund-raising groups take two different approaches. The first is to buy upfront, where the group purchases a quantity of products and then goes out and sells them. The second is what Joyner calls "order takers"-groups that take orders first, place orders for products and then deliver them. "You need to be prepared to sell both ways, as groups typically only buy one way or the other," Joyner says. "For the order takers, you need to have an easy-to-use sales flier with an order form on the back." That order form should have room for 15 to 20 orders.

When pricing your product, there are two main considerations. Typically, fund-raisers will want to triple your price. But at the same time, while people are willing to pay a fund-raising group more than the product is worth, there is a limit to how much more. Usually, 50 percent more is about the limit. That means you have to balance your price to the groups so that tripling the price doesn't make your retail price too high.

The product's price point also affects which groups you will attract. According to Joyner, "PTAs, sporting [groups] and scout groups prefer a cheaper product, typically less than five dollars, so most people will buy them. Charitable groups that don't have the benefit of a youth sales force prefer more expensive items to justify the effort to sell each item."

What kinds of benefits can one expect from selling through fund-raising groups? "The biggest advantage is that you have lots of people selling only your product," Joyner explains. That is a big advantage over having your product sit on a store shelf and hoping someone will see it. But this sales channel offers other significant benefits as well. Joyner works from his home, because he generates almost all his sales over the Internet. Plus, according to Joyner, "You don't need as sophisticated packaging as you do in a store, and you don't need to worry about bar codes or in-store displays."

One last important benefit worth mentioning is that Joyner offers his product for $1 apiece, so he doesn't have to worry about working with a tough purchasing agent over difficult terms, discounts, advertising allowances or other demands. People either like your product or they don't-and if they like it, they buy. And even better, fund-raising sales are not seasonal, as Joyner initially thought. "Groups that do fund-raising pretty much do it all year long," Joyner says. "There really isn't a slow season."

Making It Work

Will your product appeal to fund-raising groups? Consider the following criteria:

  • It's needed frequently by most people. In other words, virtually everyone has to be a potential buyer.
  • It's easily understood. Kids selling products may not be able to explain your product well, so its benefits and uses must be obvious.
  • It's extremely inexpensive. Because the people organizing the fund-raiser will raise your price threefold or more, you need a low manufacturing cost to make a profit.
  • It's lightweight. Fund-raisers look for products that will provide as few hassles as possible for the fund-raising committee.

Fund-raising has worked so well for Joyner that he's even turned his business into one that sells other products-maybe even yours-to fund-raising groups. "Groups need different items to sell all the time, and I want to offer the groups more options," he says. If you have a product you'd like him to consider, log on to his Web site at www.fundraisingwithinventions.com. The site also offers practical information for inventors who want to pursue the market on their own, including a how-to booklet Joyner sells for $13.99.

If you're being stymied by traditional channels, check out the possibility of selling through fund-raising. An army of kids may be the best sales force you could have.

Online marketplaces for intellectual property transfer have become popular because inventors have a difficult time locating companies that are actually looking for new products. Online listings also make it easier for the parties to connect. One trading forum, NewIdeaTrade.com, offers inventors and other creators of new ideas the ability to list ideas that have either a patent or a copyright for sale. A listing costs just $9.99 to $19.99, with all follow-up and subsequent negotiations handled by the inventor. The site only lists a general description of the product, and the inventor must obtain a signed confidentiality and nonuse agreement before sharing proprietary information with the potential licensor. Other sites with listing services worth checking out include: www.inventorsdigest.com, www.inventionregister.com, www.inventnet.com and www.zpatents.com.

Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant and author of Think Big: Make Millions From Your Ideas. Send him your questions at dondebelak34@msn.com.

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This article was originally published in the August 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Raiser's Edge.

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