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    December 16, 2008

    Pre-empted: Catalogs

    I made my first purchase from a catalog more than 10 year ago (gasp!) when I was in high school and somehow got my hands on a Delia's catalog. Now, I couldn't tell you how I paid for whatever it was I bought, or even what it was, but I remember looking forward to getting Delia's in the mail for many many years.

    For me, and I am sure for many others, catalogs over the years have become like at-home window shopping. I have never been able to afford to buy anything from Pottery Barn, but I love sitting on my couch and flipping through the pages, deciding which items I would buy if I could afford them. I regularly peruse L.L. Bean and make mental notes about potential presents for family and friends. And I LOVE the gadget catalogs: one of my faves is ThinkGeek.

    Unlike with marketing pieces which I used to throw in the recycling bin (now I look at them for occupational purposes), I don't automatically get rid of a new-to-me catalog. I flip through and if I see a few things that catch my eye, home it goes.

    And here is the thing: unless I am buying something like a TV, I actually prefer looking in the catalog vs. online. Now, I don't think I've ever actually used a catalog order form (maybe I did for Delia's but I don't remember), I always order the items I fall in love with online.

    Why am I telling you all this? Because I had this grand plan to write about some of the trends I was predicting for 2009 (this seems to be some kind of right of passage for us bloggers), and one of my trends was going to talk about how FY 08 ushered in the year of the online catalog for nonprofits, and how I expected in FY 09 there would be a lot of activity to expand this format online and aggregators would get into the game, when lo-and-behold, someone has not already beaten me to the thought, but has actually put their "money where their mouth is."

    Last week, I got an email from someone at Changing The Present. What does Changing the Present Do? Well: "Welcome to Changing The Present, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit website offering gifts that change the world."

    Planning to give a gift of cow from Heifer and immunizations from UNICEF and maybe throw in an adopted animal from the National Wildlife Federation? You can do all three on Changing the Present and send e-cards. It is the catalog of nonprofit catalogs--online.

    Now, as all aggregators go, if a nonprofit is interested in signing up, the more the merrier, but they will charge you a percentage of every gift and a fee per transaction. The thing I find interesting about Changing the Present, is even if I decide to say, give a goat to a family in Tanzania through Heifer, I can choose not to share my name with Heifer. So the question those joining have to ask themselves is: are they likely to get gifts from people they otherwise wouldn't have gotten gifts from, and is getting some donor's info better than getting none of it?

    From what I can tell they are pretty new, but, I have a feeling they are not the only ones who are going to leap into this pool. Does this mean paper catalogs are out the door? Absolutely not. I have written here before how catalogs may actually be Gen Y's direct mail fundraising piece.

    What would make nonprofit catalogs really kick it up a notch online? How neat would it be if as a giftee I could follow my gift? Track my goat getting delivered, meet the goat's new family, get updates from them via email about how the goat has improved their lives...

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