Outdoor Retailer as a Non-profit

How to Crush at Outdoor Retailer as a Non-profit

Representing Friends of the Inyo at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market convention was a real treat. I’ve received questions from nonprofits about the experience and how to be effectively table at these type of events.

Don’t be Afraid to Shine

You offer value – non-profit tablers seemed timid, and I related to people tagged with “nonprofit” name badges. It feels awkward talking with industry representatives when they know you aren’t a big money buyer.

Be self conscious in a good way. Be proud of your organizations work and mission. You offer a valuable service to your members and companies by accomplishing your vision. They should feel lucky because you represent the opportunity to join a team, and help with a cause. You even offer the potential of free social media exposure!

Stay Positive and Excited

I had trouble talking with folks at first. People without time for non-profits will politely tell you (this gives you more time with quality prospects).
Pro-tip: remember the old saying “if you want advice ask for money, if you want money ask for advice.” Most people love to talk about what they think, where there business is going, and the target at most booths is the marketing person. Then they may blurt out, “We never refuse requests for X at nonprofit events.”

4 Ocean is one of my favorite organizations. Their for-profit business model cleans the oceans!

Let the business person tell you their story and vision, and think about how you relate to that. Remember that you’re not making a pitch or hard sell for donations. Don’t fear jerks since you wouldn’t want them involved with your cause anyways.

Michael’s Cliff notes version of Outdoor Retailer for nonprofits: look at the directory, find the marketing manager of each company, and start a conversation on your shared goals or story.

Get your Booth Outside of the “Non-profit Alley”

This is the special section for non-profits tucked outside of the main halls and downstairs. Poor lighting and understaffed booths define this hall of lost souls. I made the rounds and saw a few friends at these booths, but noticed what I call “the non-profit table vortex”.

Table vortex – Non-profit events that appear important and well attended but consist exclusively of table staff and boring long form handouts.
For-profit’s tables – Define a real goal to engage clients, buyers, the public, and journalists. They offer fun giveaways, smile at people, tell engaging stories, and even have games in their booths.

Look how dark it is in Non-profit row…. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology had a great booth!

One of my favorite examples of a nonprofit “doing it right” was Protect the West.  They embedded their guerilla booth in the corner of a retailers space in the upper floor, greeted everyone with a smile and great conversation, and had an activity! Across the hallway you can feel they’re having a good time.

Skip the Panels for Real Interaction

Panel discussions are nice for orienting yourself and resting. Most of the speakers are authors or have an internet presence with content they are sharing. I found the most value in interaction, while simply observing presentations or panel discussions felt more like watching a Ted Talk.

Ask Everyone their Story

Talking to a volunteer barista turned me on to the group Denver Serve. They pioneered a volunteer model that’s exploded in Denver, and I hope to implement a smaller version locally. They unite a group who wants to help with small organizations who need volunteers. I never expected these ideas or meeting such important people serving coffee at the event.

The Key

Empathize with businesses and organizations. They may do something well like make carabiners or paddle boards, but they also want to make a difference in the world. At the end of the day our organizations make it possible for successful businesses to make an impact. As a small non-profit your edge is effectiveness. You’re on the ground making the change that these companies and their customers want to see in the world. So take a deep breath, dive in, and have fun!

Hope to see you at OR next summer!