Save the Children scales back to boost sales


Save the Children has significantly scaled back its most recent
Christmas catalogue, as the previous year’s edition failed to
make money for the organisation. In 2008, Save the Children
produced a 32-page catalogue; for 2009 it mailed a four-page
flyer directing customers to its online store.

Tanya Steele, director of supporter relations and fundraising at
Save the Children, blamed the not-for-profit’s insufficient
understanding of its customers for 2008’s flop. Save the Children
had previously outsourced its catalogue, but when it could no
longer justify the costs, it brought production back in-house.
“As a result we lacked really detailed knowledge of our
customers and therefore had a challenge in forecasting successful
categories and suitable price points,” says Steele. To
complicate matters, 2008 was the year Save the Children unveiled
new branding, which also could have affected response rates, she
adds.

The 2008 catalogue left Save the Children with excess stock,
particularly of fair-trade and higher-end gifts. To combat this,
Christmas 2009’s range featured “a more bespoke range of
cards and wrap with a lot of designs exclusive to the
charity,” says Steele. The charity also reduced the range
of expensive gifts, introduced branded wooden toys, and upped the
number of items in its stocking-filler/under-£5
section.

With just 1 percent of the charity’s income coming from the
trading arm, one could argue that the catalogue isn’t very
important as a fundraising tool, though curiously there is little
overlap between Save the Children’s financial supporters and its
mail order customers. “Although the demographic is similar,
they seem to choose to support in different ways,” Steele
says. Tests carried out by Save the Children concluded that
financial supporters don’t seem as interested in shopping with
the company. And when it comes to its gift buyers, they tend to
respond better to pay-per-click advertising than to cold mailings
and emails. Nevertheless, Save the Children hopes to have made a
“modest profit” from the 2009 offering and
“more importantly, to retain our customer
base”.

Save the Children isn’t the only charitable group suffering from
direct marketing woes. Christian book and bible society IBS-STL
UK appointed Baker Tilly Corporate Finance in November to pursue
a sale of its operations. On the block are the Wesley Owen
catalogue/retail division, the wholesale business STL
Distribution, and publisher Authentic Media. The failed
implementation of a new SAP computer system in October 2008,
exacerbated by the general economic downturn, led to cash-flow
pressures, excess stock, and supply chain difficulties, according
to the company.

As of mid-December, Baker Tilly was hopeful it would complete
sale negotiations or, if necessary, implement closures within the
next few weeks, though IBS-STL spokesperson Iain Green told
Catalogue e-business that the process could take months due to
legal obligations. The planned sale of the UK divisions will not
affect the charity’s global operations.

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