Successful and ethical humanitarian services depend not only on finding the resources but on raising the necessary operating capital. Obtaining donations of products often is the necessary first step in establishing and building a program, as I mentioned in Part 1 of this two-part series.1
The next step toward the primary objective of sustainability is to migrate away from obtaining donated supplies and move toward a means of purchasing the products and passing along the expense to the recipient. Philanthropic organizations have learned the value of empowering individuals to invest in their own help-seeking activities.
AFFORDABLE HEARING AIDS
A sustainable program will eventually need to identify a means of purchasing affordable hearing aids. Beyond purchasing piecemeal units through manufacturers or distributors as the need arises, some other options are available.
One is to have the program director investigate negotiating pricing with hearing aid manufacturers to purchase large bulk quantities, say, for six months to one year. Another option is to join the International Humanitarian Hearing Aid Purchasing Program (IHHAPP), which is a part of Mayflower Medical Outreach.
IHHAPP essentially operates like a buying co-op for humanitarian programs by negotiating with manufacturers for purchasing much larger quantities and passing along the bulk pricing to humanitarian programs. IHHAPP requires completion of a simple application with details of the humanitarian program and a signature on a letter of agreement in which the recipient organization agrees not to sell the hearing aids for more than the purchase price. With this IHHAPP letter of agreement indicating that the hearing aids will not be resold for a higher price, there is a greater challenge for human-itarians to achieve complete sustainability by selling to their recipients.
Both methods of purchasing affordable hearing aids for a humanitarian program are viable and are not necessarily exclusive of one another. It is just important to keep in mind the length of repair warranty, availability of adding moisture coating, getting hearing aids returned for factory repairs, and the rate of repairs for certain models or manufacturers.
PRICING FOR RECIPIENTS
Passing along the expense of the products to recipients can be challenging, but it is a necessary step along the path toward sustainability. A number of methods can ensure that enough program income is derived from purchased products to cover all of the humanitarian program's overhead expenses.
When a program is ready to move forward with purchasing supplies and hearing aids, a decision about pricing structure is necessary.
- A flat-rate pricing structure is based on charging all recipients the same price for the same products regardless of their ability to pay. To make the products affordable to all, the flat-rate price passed along to recipients would likely be only slightly greater than the manufacturer's costs. In the best of circumstances, the result of a flat rate would be a narrow profit margin that would make acquiring premium products financially prohibitive. It is easy to understand that the road to sustainability will take a great deal of time with flat-rate pricing.
- A two-tier pricing system would reflect pricing for premium and economy pricing levels to accommodate the purchasing power of the region's economic range. Achieving a wider profit margin is possible by offering premium products to recipients who have greater spending power. A program using a two-tier pricing strategy will reach sustainability sooner than those using the flat rate.
When flexibility is built into the flat-rate structure, it allows recipients to barter items such as chickens, coconuts, cassava, and the like for part or all of the hearing aids or supplies.
A long-term strategic plan would entail looking at the operating budget first to create a fundraising plan. The abundance of creative fundraising opportunities is limited only by one's own imagination and energy level.
Most often, fundraising activities occur on the humanitarian's home turf in a developed country. Fundraising ideas include selling products, writing letters, connecting with fraternal organizations, web-based fundraising, and grants.
- Selling consumable products: An Internet search will reveal businesses established to help groups or individuals sell consumable products to raise funds. Some basic fundraising concepts must be kept in mind, whether one sells candy, flowers, stationery, or other products.
Each fundraising business establishes the profit according to the products sold. Profits can range from 15 percent to 60 percent, according to volume and type of product. Selling 5,000 cases of cookie dough might yield 65 percent profit, for example, while selling 120 cases of cookie dough yields a 25 percent profit.
It is equally important to identify whether there is a charge for product shipping, promotional and ordering materials, and startup. A minimum order may be required, as may partial or complete payment when the order is placed.
Finally, give some thought to where and how the consumable products will be sold. Will the sales take place door-to-door or on tables set up in front of a busy shopping area? Clearly, sales of consumable products for fundraising require a significant amount of time, organization, and patience.
- Selling local products: It is possible to purchase products and crafts from local artisans within the country of outreach to sell in the United States. Before purchasing and shipping any quantity of these products, learn about customs and the taxing regulations of items brought into the United States.
This manner of fundraising poses some risk if none or few of the items are ultimately sold, but buyers may purchase these unique products more than familiar consumable products like cookie dough.
- Crowdfunding: This method asks groups of people (family, friends, neighbors, and strangers) to donate money for a cause or project through an online platform or an old-fashioned letter-writing campaign. One or two photos are usually shared with a brief story about the program to help donors better understand the importance of the program.
Online fundraising has ubiquitous and well established through sites such as GoFundMe, YouCaring, Pledgie, and Indegogo. These sites differ according to their surcharges, features, ease of navigation, and immediate availability of funds donated.
A letter-writing campaign is another method to consider. The letter sent to friends, family, and neighbors should be concise and direct about the purpose, amount needed, a deadline for donating, and where to send donations.
- Non-product fundraising: Many tangible consumable products can be sold, but some non-product fundraising ideas do not require shipping and minimum orders. Some of these include read-a-thons, raffles, walk-a-thons, silent auctions, concerts, or local restaurant partnerships.
- Scholarships/grants: Some of the most successful humanitarians have discovered the value of submitting applications for grants or scholarships to private foundations (e.g., the Clinton Global Initiative, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), hearing aid foundations (e.g., the Hear the World Foundation, the Oticon Hearing Foundation), or federal grants (e.g., USAid, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders). Even your local Rotary Club may offer scholarships. It's not unusual to have the first and even second bids go unfunded. Ask each program its aims and try to write the application toward those.
SAYING ‘THANK YOU’
Whether equipment, supplies, or monetary gifts are donated, it's always important to say thank you. Large or small corporations or individual donors appreciate recognition of their donation. Remember to handwrite thank you cards detailing how the donations were used.
Sending a photo of the program's activities can also give donors a sense of the value of their donation. Your program becomes even more memorable if a small gift from the region is sent with the thank you card. Your program will be remembered fondly because of the thoughtful thank-you sent, especially valuable when approaching donors the following year.
A sustainable humanitarian program doesn't need to be tilting at windmills like Don Quixote. With thoughtful and strategic planning, it is possible to create a sustainable program. Once a program moves from dependency to sustainability, it also changes from a purely humanitarian program to an established hearing healthcare discipline within the economy of the region.
Miss the first installment of this two-part series, which focuses on finding resources for humanitarian projects? Read it on HJ's website: bit.ly/HJ-AWB-Resources.
Audiology without Borders
Our Audiology Without Borders column highlights hu-manitarian hearing healthcare programs.
The column is edited by active humanitarians Jackie Clark, PhD, and King Chung, PhD. Dr. Clark is a member of The Hearing Journal Editorial Advisory Board, clinical associate professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, and research scholar at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Dr. Chung is an associate professor of audiology at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Send details of your humanitarian program to [email protected].
Read past Audiology Without Borders columns in a special collection at bit.ly/HJAudWB.