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Part 2 - The REAL Gifts in the Fundraising Industry

by Ben Harris, President, Production Solutions


Any company serving the direct marketing industry, especially those serving non-profits, should be universally referred to as ESSENTIAL Partners.

We must acknowledge and adopt this Essential Partners terminology to move away from terms like vendor, supplier, printer, mailer, commingler, trucker, etc. Research has proven that changing the way we speak to others (and ourselves) through making better word choices can impact our optimism and improve the willingness of others to hear what we are saying.

These Essential Partners’ resilience, ingenuity, and courage exhibited over the past 800+ days was the reason most, if not all, organizations had some of their best years of fundraising in the past two decades.

Showing gratitude to our essential partners can be done by referring to our direct marketing manufacturing business partners as Essential, because they were then, are now, and will be going forward.  The second action you can take is to look at the list below and use this as a guide for how you lead in your role when it comes to engaging with these partners.  I expect much of this will be common sense; and yet, there is nothing common about the new landscape that we are being called to lead through.

The following list is a compilation of my own experiences and conversations with essential partners, along with recent essential partner surveys. The surveys measured feedback on not only what we can do better as a partner, but also what our partners would like for our clients and industry at large to understand.  According to the survey, our partners’ top challenges and needs were:  Staffing – retention and adding new staff, material shortages and rising costs across the board (even things like electricity and water, maintenance, office products, glue/gum for envelopes, ink), significantly higher wages and benefits to compete with larger manufacturing or warehouse businesses, and to sum it all up – extreme volatility with surging demand.

Here are some ways you can engage and support best:

  1. Make regular time to ask how they are doing, and how you can help. Be courteous and say hello, good morning, thank you, and anything that is authentically human.
  2. Be open to planning weeks and months in advance for projects that you are committed to and provide ongoing updates when your needs change.
  3. When a challenge or issue arises – instead of yelling, or writing a scathing email – instead, ask: “How can we help most?”
  4. Pay your invoices on time, or at least communicate if you are running behind where you stand.
  5. Ask and be open to alternative package material, formats, sizes, etc.
  6. Remind your teams every day, that how they make people feel when they interact with partners has a significant impact on whether those partners can keep good people and the quality of the work, they produce for you!
  7. Send a gift card for a pizza or ice cream party for the customer service team, or department that busted their butts to get your projects out on time, especially if you were running late.
  8. Go for a visit or tour of a facility to really see for yourself the challenges these essential partners are facing and discuss opportunities for how you can help most.
  9. If you can’t go in person, ask for a virtual tour or a presentation about new equipment, or workflow opportunities to improve cost, speed, and quality.
  10. Pick up the phone after two emails where it seems like you are not on the same page and talk to each other.
  11. Be detailed with your quote requests, or purchase orders, or email communications – and not leave anything to speculation or assumption
  12. Ask about what is realistic for quote turn times, or new project ideas – before you start sending requests for quick turn on quotes, only to get frustrated
  13. Have someone on your executive team or even the owner set up a call with the same level of personnel within the partner and talk about shared goals and needs.
  14. Look for people or resources you can connect your partners with when it comes to recruiting and retention efforts in their business.
  15. Show appreciation in little ways, like thank you emails, notes, gift cards, lunches, flowers, or anything that would make you feel valued and appreciated.

I don’t expect this list to feel unfamiliar to you for building respect, trust, and harmony amongst human beings and business partners. Though, it does take awareness, acceptance, and intention to conduct yourself and your business with essential partners in this way.  And I can assure you it will make a world of difference in how our essential partners perform, because it will give them more positive energy, inspiration, and goodwill that they desperately need to continue their critical work.

Let us keep a movement for good going and help one another stay optimistic and inspired to keep coming to work each day. We all make a huge difference in how others experience their work, which influences the quality of their life, and the quality of their relationships with those around them. What goes around comes around.  So, let's take a moment to reset as humans doing great work in the world, for each other, through one small act of good intention and effort each day.


Ben Harris has been serving with PS for over 22 years. He leads fearlessly and from the heart, which inspires the PS team to do their absolute best work every day. He invests his time in the people and culture of PS, communicates authentically, fosters a learning environment for his staff, and leads by example. Ben is constantly inspiring and engaging his colleagues and refers to himself as the “Chief Employee Officer”, with a people-focused approach. This leadership is what empowers PS’ thriving work and keeps our team in alignment with our mission.   Splitting his time between California and Virginia, Ben enjoys being with his wife, Brooke, and their three kids. He likes to exercise, host fun parties, surf, and go to the beach.