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December 16, 2018

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Rebate Fundraisers

by Deane Brengle

Twenty years ago nobody would have thought that by just doing your day-to-day shopping for groceries you could be fundraising for your group. Or that your usual shopping for household and business items could be generating money for your nonprofit too.

Well, as the old saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of invention".

With the growing need and demand for more fundraising dollars, creative fundraisers are exploring virgin territories in search of new funds. And they have found willing partners with the stores we use every day.

Many stores - local, national, chains, and online - will rebate a percentage of your purchase to the nonprofit of your choice. While many of these stores only will work with schools, some stores only care that you are a 501c3.

Here's How It Works

There are five different ways that a store can work it's rebate program:

  1. Receipts- You enroll your group with a store offering this type of program. Your group then collects receipts from your members after they shop at the store. This type of program can run for a fixed amount of time or all year long. Your group turns in the receipts, usually at a pre-determined time, and receives a percentage of the total from the receipts as a rebate to your group. This is a popular program with small local stores that can't afford the pricey sophisticated software and equipment to run a Frequent Shopper Card program.

  2. Frequent Shopper Card- You enroll your group with a store offering this type of program. You alert your members with this store's Frequent Shopper Card to designate your group to receive credit for their purchases. Then, every time your members shop at the store and present their Frequent Shopper Card a percentage of their purchase is credited to your group. Payment to your group usually occurs at predetermined intervals- monthly, quarterly, bi-annually. This is a popular program with large stores and regional chains.

  3. Credit Card- Same as the Frequent Shopper Card, only with a credit card. You enroll your group with a store or credit card offering this type of program. You encourage your members to apply and receive the credit card and to designate your group to receive credit for their purchases. Then, every time your members use their credit card a percentage of their purchase is credited to your group. Payment to your group usually occurs at predetermined intervals- monthly, quarterly, bi-annually. Offers vary- sometimes a higher percentage is paid for shopping at the card issuing store and a lower percentage for shopping everywhere else. Sometimes the percentage is only paid for shopping at the card issuing store and no where else. This type of program is very popular with national chains and some regional chains.

  4. Scrip- Scrip is a term that means "substitute money". In this case, when you purchase scrip you are purchasing store gift certificates. Your group purchases the gift certificates in bulk at a discount. It then sells them to its members at full price and keeps the difference. The member then uses the gift certificate like cash at the store. This is a popular program that can be run two different ways: either in house or via a scrip company.

  5. Shopping Portals- You enroll your group with a store offering this type of program. You encourage your members to use the link you provide when they want to shop online. When they use your link to access your shopping portal a percentage of their purchase is credited to your group. Payment to your group usually occurs at predetermined intervals- monthly, quarterly, bi-annually.

Who Offers Rebate Programs??

The list is large:

  • Food Lion
  • Lowes Foods
  • Kroger
  • Harris Teeter
  • Giant Foods
  • Meijer
  • Safeway
  • Albertsons
  • Vons
  • Ralphs
  • Whole Foods
  • Save-on Drugs
  • Target
  • Office Depot

    This is just a small sample of what's available!

    And once we expand into the scrip and shopping portal areas the list becomes almost endless:

    • Macy's
    • JCPenny's
    • Home Depot
    • Shell
    • Gap
    • Lands End
    • American Airlines
    • Carnival Cruises
    • Linens & Things
    • Pep Boys
    • USA Today

    This is just the tip of the iceberg of what's available!

    Making Your Rebate Fundraiser Successful

    What could be easier than making your usual purchases and having a percentage rebated to your group? While it may seem that this type of fundraiser should be a no-brainer for your group- you would be wrong.

    This type of fundraiser will be brand new to most of your members. And you will find that their old shopping habits will be hard to break!

    The secret to a successful rebate program is constantly reminding your members how to participate, where to participate, and the rewards to your group for participating:

    • Communicate about your rebate program with your members at every opportunity possible: events, meetings, newsletters, email, and new member packets.

    • Include ways to participate with each communication: a phone number to call, a person to visit, a hot link in an email, and a button or banner on your web site.

    • Every time your group receives a report/check from your rebate program let your members know how many people used the program and how much was donated. Let them know what the rebate funds will be used to purchase.

    How to Start a Rebate Program.

    • Choose Carefully- Rebate percentages will vary. You may be able to negotiate a higher percentage with a local merchant if you use them exclusively for their category (grocery or drug store).

    • Start Small- You may want to add several types of rebate programs to your fundraising mix. Just be sure to add them one at a time so you don't confuse or overwhelm your members with too many choices.

    • Profit Sharing- This has worked well with schools that charge tuition. Share a percentage of the rebate with each member who participates. The larger the rebate they generate the more money they earn. The usual percentage is 10 - 20%. This type of incentive always increases participation and earnings.

    Where to go for further information

    Here are some ideas and links for further information about the various types of rebate programs:

    • Receipt Programs- Check with your local stores.

    • Frequent Shopper Card Programs- Check with your local stores.

    • Scrip - In House- Check with your local stores. You may also find these software resources helpful:

    • Scrip- Script Companies- I must offer a warning here! One major scrip company, Scrip Advantage, has had major financial difficulties and is legal trouble. While several other companies offer a scrip program, the only one I feel comfortable recommending is The Great Lakes Scrip Center. No matter who you use as a supplier please beware and make inquiries about them and get referrals.

    • Shopping Portals- The list of suppliers of shopping portals is almost as long as the list of stores they offer. Here are a few for you to consider:

    Despite the difficulty of changing your members buying habits and the small amounts of money you will make at the start, you should start a rebate fundraiser if you find it is a good fit for your group. These passive, low impact fundraisers are the wave of the future and the sooner you start the better.


    About the Author:

    Deane Brengle is the editor of several free online publications that cover fundraising for small nonprofit groups. You can visit these publications and read more about fundraising in articles by him and other experts in the field at The Fund$Raiser Cyberzine, The Fundraising for Small Groups Newsletter, and Fundraising Booklets.

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