Ep103: Starlight Helps Nonprofits Get The Supplies They Need


Starlight Children's Foundation helps nonprofits get the supplies they need using an online portal called Wish List. Not every nonprofit has or needs an online list. But many organizations are in need of supplies. Here's how you can get the supplies and products you need.

Today on CauseTalk Radio, Megan and I talk to Jacqueline Hart-Ibrahim, Global CEO of Starlight Children's Foundation.

Founded in 1982, Starlight Children's Foundation has been a leading global charity that partners with experts to improve the life and health of kids and families around the world.

With the help of movie maker Steven Spielberg, Starlight was one of the first organizations to launch its own private social network in the late 1990's.

Starlight divides its work into two areas: Starbright World, a social network for teens with chronic and life-threatening medical conditions, and the Starlight Wish List platform.

The Starlight Wish List is an online portal that connects donors with hundreds of facilities to support the unmet needs of millions of kids and families directly at the point-of-care.

For example, my former employer Boston Medical Center, is one of many Massachusetts hospitals on the Starlight's list. BMC's wish list includes everything from toys to underwear to batteries. 

The wish list streamlines an organization's in-kind needs to one list and prevents well meaning but unnecessary in-kind donations.

To date, the wish list has fulfilled over $2.5 million in requests. Starlight built it and they came!

How Starlight Made a Wish Come True

Megan and I both had the same question for Jackie. How did Starlight get supporters to visit the site?

First, supporters are encouraged to create and fund their own wish list. Starlight brings together eager supporters with online technology that turns intentions into actions.

Second, the list is appealing to businesses, which prefer a central site where they can match excess inventory with nonprofit needs. 

Finally, social media has been key in getting the word out. Starlight also educates partners on how to best use social networks to attract donors. So far, nonprofit profits have been excited and impressed with the cooperation.

Product is the New Cash

Nonprofits want cash from businesses. But what they usually get is product.

That’s one conclusion you can draw from the donations of 105 companies that were tallied by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Of the $12.1 billion donated by these businesses, only about one-third was cash.

There are two good reasons why businesses prefer to donate product instead of cash.

First, donating product has clear tax advantages. Companies can deduct up to two times the cost on their return. So, if a company donates $10,000 worth of disposable razors and it cost the company $1,000 to make them, they can deduct two times the cost or $2,000 on their corporate return. [I’m married to a tax accountant, but this isn’t tax advice. Consult a tax professional for your specific situation.]

Second, product donations are tangible contributions that customers and investors—not to mention reporters and photographers—can see.

If you paid attention to company support for Hurricane Sandy victims in 2012 you probably saw lots of company trucks delivering supplies and volunteers handing out branded products to the needy. In short, product donations are powerful public relations.

If you're waiting for a donation from a company, it will probably arrive in a box, not an envelope. Here’s how to ensure that product is as welcome as a check.

Questions to Ask Before Accepting a Product Donation

Curt Weeden, author of a great book on corporate giving, Smart Giving is Good Business, has a good checklist for nonprofits before they ask for product donations.

  • Do you really need the product donation? If you don’t need it, don’t ask for it.
  • Evaluate any product donations for safety and quality standards. If the company wouldn’t sell it on the open market, they shouldn’t be giving it to you.
  • Are there any potential PR ramifications for accepting a product donation? If your nonprofit is a food pantry and you get a truckload of junk food from a manufacturer, will you keep it? If you do, will the press criticize you for accepting it? Product donations are supposed to be a good thing, not food for a public relations disaster.
  • Can you make a good case for why your nonprofit is a good destination for product donations?
  • Do you have experience receiving, managing, and distributing product donations? Is that limited to within the United States, or are you experienced in foreign markets as well?
  • Do you understand the tax incentives for product donations? Can you explain them to the company? If you can’t, then you shouldn’t be accepting products from them.

Make Money from Unwanted Products Donations

1.  Donate the unwanted gift. If your nonprofit can’t use the product, just about every town and city has an American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Vietnam Veterans of America to donate clothes, electronics, kitchenware, and so on. If you're still stumped, check out TheGivingEffect.com. It lists over 1,000 charities that need everything from toys to art.

2.  Return the gift and donate the money to charity. Over the holidays encourage supporters to return unwanted gifts and donate the cash to you. Remind them that you’ll take store credits, too. Or give them a list of things they can buy you with the credit.

3.  Recycle the gift for charity. If grandma's idea of giving you the latest technology is a Sony Walkman she picked up at a yard sale, recycle it with a nonprofit that can either give your electronics a good home or recycle it for profit. Thanks to a partnership between Dell and Goodwill and a program called Reconnect, you can drop off your electronics at one of 1,900 Goodwill locations across the United States.