Distributor Rick Tidd has helped raise $750,000 for charity and local organizations during his 35-year career—and wants to hit a cool million before he retires.

“My primary goal is to help people, so that’s why I get involved in charitable efforts,” says Tidd, owner of Findlay, OH-based Mad Hatter Promotions. “But it also tends to help my business, since people invariably end up asking what I do and then want to work with me.”

Michelle Long, CEO of Glen Burnie, MD-based Hullabaloo Promos, agrees. “As a community, we need to work together,” she says. “If you have the capability to assist a neighboring company or school, it just seems like the right thing to do.”
But how do you get started when you’re busy running a business? “Evaluating your options is simple— don’t take on anything that will cause your business to lose money,” says Long, who advises that processing orders at a discount, at cost or as a donation for advertising is best. “It’s a balance, though. Remember to leave time for your regular clients.”

There are lots of charitable organizations, many with branches in your area, that would love your help. When you support a nonprofit that aligns with your firm’s values, you’ll also attract like-minded customers. One idea: Tidd recommends choosing a charity that you want to affiliate with—and offering up a few hundred tote bags free or at End Quantity Pricing, if they’re hosting an event. “You get to add your logo as a sponsor,” he says. “You can even ask one of your clients to sponsor the bags or other items for the charity, and put both of your logos on it. It makes everyone happy.”

Tidd has repeated this charitable model in one form or another over and over, helping to raise three-quarters of a million dollars for his local community. For a Kentucky Derby-themed gala to raise money for his local senior center, Tidd produces a printed whiskey glass or stemless wine glass each year. “We’ve gotten our customers to sponsor the glasses,” Tidd says. “And we all get our logos on the drinkware.” For his local Honor Flight Network veterans program, Tidd sources “challenge” coins, “good conduct” medal pins and celluloid pins at cost. “We’ve saved the group more than $2,000 vs. a retail cost,” he says. 

Read on to learn more about how generous distributors have gotten involved in their local communities—and been paid back in dividends. Plus, get some great ideas on how you can get involved.

Playing the Field in the Best Way Possible

Michelle Long first got into the promo products business more than 20 years ago while she was PTA treasurer at her children’s school. “I was writing checks for T-shirts, water bottles and lanyards,” she says. “Paying $10 for a T-shirt was insane to me. Many parents couldn’t order, especially if they had several kids in the school.” Since she also worked in a printing company’s accounting department, she decided to branch out into the promo side of the business, to sell more affordable T-shirts to schools.

After the first few months of servicing her children’s elementary school, the PTA president shared Long’s name at a county board meeting. Suddenly, she was hearing from teachers at other schools, along with team coaches, marching bands and honor clubs. “I handle teacher appreciation, staff apparel, field trip wristbands or buttons, color guard gear—whatever they need,” she says.

On the charitable side, Long offers Title I elementary schools special assistance for their field and spirit day T-shirts: free artwork prep and shirts at cost or at a marginal markup. “Last year, a school told me, ‘I want kids on a playground, a sun wearing glasses, a dolphin holding a violin and a Superman with a lighthouse on his chest,’” she says. “And we got it done for free!”

Every year Long receives effusive thank-you emails from principals, teachers and parents. “They tell me they weren’t able to get the T-shirts done until I came along because it was too expensive,” she says. “I’ve attended several field day events—it’s overwhelming and I’m honored to help.”

Word-of-mouth has been huge for Long. “When you take care of the 12-piece sweatshirt order for the high school camera club, you never know [ if a parent might happen to run a ] state golf tournament and [ will ask you ] to handle the event,” she says. “Every order, large or small, profitable or charitable, receives the same level of service from me.”

High On Ballooning—and Logoed Shirts

Two decades ago, Rick Tidd helped start an annual event in Findlay, the Flag City Balloonfest. It’s grown so much that up to 40,000 people attend the free three-day community event. “Over the years, we’ve both donated to the event and sold all the branded items they needed at cost,” says Tidd, who served as president for four years. In 2018, Mad Hatter’s contribution saved the event more than $4000 vs. needing to purchase logoed items at retail.

“With our help, they can afford to do more for less,” says Tidd, who’s contributed volunteer shirts, lapel pins and shirts for the committee, pennant flags to ring the fields and “pilots packs” of gloves, mugs and blankets. Tidd goes all out with the volunteer shirts that he produces at cost for the fest, using 12 colors on the front and back. “That way, the sponsors get their logos in full color,” he says.

While Balloonfest has been a passion project for Tidd, his business has also benefited from his involvement. “I’ve made a bit of money from the people I’ve met on the committee and through the event,” he says. “One order was $34,000.”

Our Quick-Hit, Get-Involved List

Check out these 10 ways that you can build some amazing business karma in your community. No doubt, you’ll feel great pitching in and you’ll meet red-hot leads along the way.

1. Invite people to visit your shop. Whether it’s scheduling public open houses so people can experience how you decorate T-shirts, or hosting school field trips to show entrepreneurial-minded kids what you do behind the scenes, this effort shows that you’re committed to the community. 

2. Teach what you know. Offer to teach a free or inexpensive class at your local library or community college that’s an intro to what your business does, whether it’s decoration or branding or marketing. You may meet potential clients or even future hires this way.

3. Join a parade. If your community hosts parades—Memorial Day, Independence Day, Halloween or winter holidays—be visible, whether it’s signage on a float or branded T-shirts, hats or hoodies for all the volunteers.

4. Adopt a local road or highway. For the cost of one weekend a month when you and your team will clean up litter, your business name is on a roadside sign that will get tons of views, and spark lots of goodwill.

5. Throw a barbecue. If your company’s located in a high-foot-traffic area, consider turning your lot into a mini-festival with some hotdogs, veggie burgers and branded T-shirts.

6. Encourage your employees to volunteer. Give them an hour or two off work every couple of weeks or each month to volunteer at organizations of their choice. Ask them to wear gear branded with your business name as well.

7. Create care baskets around the holidays. For local families in need, put together essentials baskets with apparel and other items that adults and kids could use. Contact a local food bank, community center or place of worship to identify people to gift.

8 Donate school supplies. Getting involved with your local education community creates lots of goodwill. Brand or personalize school supplies like pens, notebooks, rulers, flash drives, planners and folders that kids can use throughout the year.

9. Sponsor an animal adoption fair. Shelters always need help, so donate money for supplies or sponsor an adoption fair. Give out logoed pet bandanas, leashes or other furry friend-related items.

10. Get involved at a local level. Whether you join the chamber of commerce or attend a city council meeting, start developing a voice in your local community. These are great opportunities to meet influential people in your area.

As distributors like Tidd and Long have demonstrated, getting involved in your community is good for the soul, and good for your business’s bottom line.

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