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So, we’ve been talking to a nonprofit organization, which I can’t name, about a little problem they have.

This outfit has been known for a long time for its “thrift stores”, where people could get some decent clothing and other stuff for not-a-lot-of-dough. Then came the bubble, and people’s cast-offs were often new-or-nearly-new designer things, as they filled their closets via VISA, and then purged them to make room for the next round. Suddenly, the decent stuff for not-a-lot-of-dough became really nice stuff for not-a-lot-of-dough. Downright boutiquey!

Then, the bubble burst. And the stores became places where people could get nice stuff, even though they didn’t have a lot of money (anymore). It became cool. Go to the ______ store and get a handbag and sweater for a song. Downright chic!

Here’s the problem. In the past, the organization had to promote its stores just to get traffic, and to fight the “cast off used clothing” perception. They never had to promote their primary mission, which is not to re-sell cool old stuff, but to serve a real need within certain segments of the population (neither segment nor need can be named … sorry). The stores were sort of a combination byproduct and revenue subsidy. Well, suddenly the true mission has been forgotten as the brand has come to stand for awesome boutique-quality thrift stores. As a result, it is very hard for them to convince philanthropic types that they are even non-prophet, let alone that they need donations.

Anyhow, it’s going to be interesting to see how our thinking unfolds as we continue this conversation. Maybe it’s a merchandising approach. Maybe social network. Maybe it’s good old-fashion fund-raising. Whatever it turns out to be, it will be interesting to apply our marketing and creative brain power to making it happen.

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