Tag with Swag: Tips for Nonprofit Promotional Materials

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By Dave Kellam, SeaPlan Communications Manager, dkellam [at] seaplan.org

Around the office we call it swag: the pens, water bottles and mugs emblazoned with the SeaPlan logo. At first, these familiar marketing tools of the business world may seem out of place at a nonprofit, but promotional materials can help any organization achieve its goals.  

Nonprofits and government agencies involved in ocean planning and management can successfully use promotional materials in a variety of ways. Swag can improve name recognition — quickly building a reputation in a particular stakeholder community when distributed at targeted conferences or meetings. This is especially important in the emerging field of ocean planning. Quality promotional materials are great too for board and volunteer recognition.  Sometimes promotional materials can achieve educational and outreach goals as well. For example, an aluminum reusable drinking water bottle labeled with ways to reduce plastic marine debris is both informative and part of the solution.

Here are some quick rules of swag.

  • Match your Mission - Swag that is inconsistent with an organization’s mission is a problem, like coonskin hats for PETA.
  • Don’t Break the Bank - Swag that is too expensive may violate federal and state gift laws and erode confidence in an organization’s fiscal management.
  • Junk is for Trash Cans - Cheap pens or plastic toys with your logo just links your organization with poor quality.
  • Useful Items Get Used – Choose swag that is useful to your target audience, like key floats for boaters.   
  • People Like Swag with Heart - Try to avoid bulk promotional items from oversees. Brand locally made items or consider partnering with a community business with a good reputation. 

Choosing the right swag that fits your brand, mission and target audience takes thought, but the benefits are well worth it.

Let’s hear from the OpenChannels community.  What is the best swag you have seen? What is the worst? Have you found any great sources of swag? Please post comments and share. 

Dave Kellam is the Communications Manager of SeaPlan, an independent nonprofit ocean science and policy group providing practical solutions to balance development and conservation. Dave specializes in communication analysis, strategic planning, and database design. Disclaimer: the opinions and views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of SeaPlan's partners or associated organizations.

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