Donations Are Sales and Other Charitable Marketing

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In the USA, when someone needs a medical device - wheelchair, crutches, etc. - one buys them from the local drugstore or supplier via insurance. Many of these can even be found on Amazon. With one-day delivery and Amazon Prime, it often pays to order from them rather than buy at the local supplier. When you are done with it, you sell it. Even though they don't market this are too heavily, eBay has 32,000+ active listings for wheelchairs alone!

This may keep things simple - get everything from your local drugstore or doctor and bill the same insurance - but it is pretty inefficient. After all, most people don't need the wheelchair, crutches or other device for more than a relatively short period.

Israel's market is a little different. The Israeli HMOs do not pay for these devices, unless they really will be used for a very long time. Instead, a local non-profit called "Yad Sarah" loans just about every reusable medical device available under the sun to any citizen or resident. Yad Sarah has offices across the country.

Of course, borrowing a $200 wheelchair runs the risk of it never being returned, or perhaps being resold. When your cost is near-zero, why not sell it off at any low amount?

To improve its return rate, Yad Sarah takes a deposit equivalent to close to the full value of the item. It is simple, just swipe a credit card, they will take off $25 for those aluminum crutches or $140 for that super-adjustable wheelchair, and when you return the item, they will refund the money to you.

But Yad Sarah is a donations-driven non-profit, which needs to maximize its donations to keep operating (and running its beautiful facilities).

Of course, Yad Sarah does the usual mail and phone campaigns, but this organization has the particular advantage of interacting with potential donors at 2 moments: pickup and return. It has 3 choices as to how it can request donations.

  1. Sell the items: Well, it could, but it would violate its non-profit mission, and likely bump up against retailers and importers who could sell items for cheaper. When I broke my ankle, the deposit for crutches with Yad Sarah was more than the crutches cost on Amazon.
  2. Ask for donations at the time of loan: It could do this as well, but it is the worst time. People already are calculating the cost of purchase vs loan with deposit. In addition, at the beginning of an injury cycle, doctors' bills, surgeries, lost wages are all ahead, along with current pain. No one wants to give now. So make people give a deposit, but make it clear that it is refundable.
  3. Ask for donations at the time of return: By the time of return, people are feeling better, most of the pain and cost is in the past. Religious feeling and goodwill are particularly strong after recovering from illness or injury. But most importantly, the person has already paid the credit card bill. If the deposit was $100, that amount has been written off. The return of $100 feels like a bonus.

At the time of return, Yad Sarah personnel are trained to ask, "do you want to leave some or all of it as a donation?" The very symbol of illness and injury is being stored away; work is returning to normal; you feel good and you get some almost unexpected funds to boot. Who wouldn't want to give at that time?

Asking for donations is selling something, in this case a good feeling and tax receipt as opposed to a tank of gas or a smartphone, but a sale nonetheless. Successful sales are about packaging and timing the sale in just the right way.