Money, Money, Money! Turning $96 Into $27,000 By Giving – Sophie Lane

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Looking back, I now recognize the feeling I had was the need for change. In 2010 our photographic industry market had shifted and the general economy had shifted. My husband, Steve Winslow, and I realized that our marketing strategy at Winslow Studio and Gallery had been without innovation for far too long. Steve opened his studio doors in 1990. Over the course of twenty years, he carefully honed his craft and secured his spot as Bozeman, Montana’s elite high end portrait studio.

Yet, since 2007 there had been many dynamic changes in the photographic industry. I vividly remember while studying at Brooks Institute of Photography in 2004, my professor, Tim Meyer, shared a number of his own concerns about the state of the industry.

There we sat, six years later needing a plan and fast.


Gift Certificate


Give to Receive

The plan came eight months later at Imaging USA, when Travis Gugleman said, “ If you’re not receiving what you want, you’re not giving what you should.” Simply put, that phrase opened an entirely new realm of money-making possibilities. In that very moment, the antsy need-to-change sensation I had disappeared and I excitedly got to work changing how we do business. Thinking
about ways to give while seeking our target market turned my focus to charities.

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Refreshing some old ideas provided a three-way-win formula.

  1. We donate to charities and fill our pockets instead of emptying them!
  2. Patrons redeem their certificates and TRIPLE their money value!
  3. The charity raises as much as $1000 with just our donation!

In short, Winslow Studio made $27,000 dollars by donating and redeeming twenty gift certificates. This all occurred in the last six months of 2012. I’ll spare you my two-year learning curve and show you how these gift certificates proved to be such big money makers.

Rockin’ the Ratio for Big Bucks

I found that a $100 to $300 ratio yielded the best results (i.e. a certificate purchased for $100 that gives the buyer $300 in credit at our studio). I create 10, yes TEN, $300 gift certificates to Winslow Studio for a family or children’s portrait session ($150 session value with a $150 print credit). The charity sells these gift certificates for $100 each. From these ten gift certificates, we’re potentially gaining ten new clients. I will NOT limit myself to donating just one gift certificate and I’m raising up to $1000 for the charity!

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The Charity displays these certificates as a type of silent auction item that we call a ‘Direct Purchase’. Each person, up to ten people, who fill out a line on the bid-sheet commits $100 to the Charity and receives a $300 gift certificate to Winslow Studio. There is no “outbid the person before you” on our gift certificates.

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All I ask in return from the Charity is the contact information (name, address, phone and email) of everyone who purchases a gift certificate. I have the charity sign a contract stating their willingness to give me this information. I won’t donate without it. Ever. Having their information allows me to contact each person and help them schedule their portrait session.

The $100 donation helps to qualify our target market because not everyone is willing to hand over a hundred-dollar bill. Having that initial investment helps the purchasers understand what it is they’re buying and the value of what we’re offering.

By following the steps below, Winslow Studio gave, in total, over 80 gift certificates to charities and raised over $8000 for those causes just last year.

This year I expect those numbers to double.

From those eighty gift certificates, twenty have been redeemed. That’s a 25% call rate, so far! In addition, not all of the sessions have been in to order their portraits yet, nor have the gift certificates reached their expiration date. Our percentages should still increase quite a bit. On a direct mail campaign, it’s unheard of to get more than a 2-3% call rate. I’ll take this 25% over 3% any day!

Only one of the twenty gift certificates was redeemed for face value with no extra purchase. If you consider the $27,000 we made from those twenty gift certificates, it’s ok with me if one in 20 doesn’t order more.

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So Here Goes

Step One: Research Where to Give!

Placing a few calls to local, well-known charities is a great way to get started.

The three things to ask when you call a charity are:

  • “We’ve heard wonderful things about your organization and we’re looking for ways to give back in our community, do you have any fundraising events coming up that we could discuss being a part of?” Believe me, they already love you.
  • “What are your monetary goals in fundraising for your biggest event this year?” Who wouldn’t want to brag about their most successful event?
  • “Would you be open to some ideas from us about what we’d like to do for you? This is where you describe to them the idea of a Direct Purchase.

By asking the questions above and researching the charities in your community, you will quickly and easily find where you’ll fit best.

Our studio has a stellar reputation in our community as a high-end portrait business. Therefore, we approach some of the higher-end charities that have the biggest footprint in our town of Bozeman and surrounding county where we have a population of 90,000.

We contribute to the following types of organizations, among others:

Hospital Foundation

  • Raises $200,000-$300,000 in one night for departments at our local hospital

Women’s Shelter Foundation

  • Raises $100,000+ in one night to shelter women and children displaced by abuse

Cancer Support Center

  • Raises $70,000 plus in one night to help cancer patients and their families with activities, counseling, cooking classes, etc.

Step Two: Preparing the Gift Certificates

Our ten 5×7 gift certificates are printed locally at a big box store on lustre photo paper. I mount them on 2-ply artboard, trim with a gold pen and package them in a slick black envelope with a gold stretchy band and our Winslow Studio sticker. My total cost for 10 certificates is $12.

They’re beautiful and charities LOVE the look of them.

Step Three: The EASY upsell

There’s nothing easier than selling to people who have a gift certificate! Obviously they want what you’re offering! But we purposefully structure our donation as a studio credit rather than a set package.

When you receive a gift card, don’t you oftentimes discover that you spend more when you get there? I do. If I receive a gift card to a clothing store, Steve better watch his wallet because spending more is inevitable! Why, then, would I donate an all-inclusive package and thwart our opportunity to upsell the images we create? Instead I give them credit toward products at our studio to help them purchase what they really want. I know they will fall in love with their portraits and, when they do, spending more is as easy as pie! It’s a beautiful thing.

Our average additional sale on every gift certificate was $1350. So, yes, we made $27,000 from 20 gift certificates.

My cost to acquire those clients who spent $27,000 was just $96 in materials.

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Make It Even Better

I must admit that with a new studio and home purchase in the last six months, we haven’t made all of the necessary follow-up phone calls to the recipients of the gift certificates. Even so, we’re still very pleased with our results.

This year, our goal is that 60% of certificates will be redeemed because we’re getting in touch with those clients sooner and more consistently.

I’ll reiterate the words that changed my life three years ago. “If you’re not receiving what you want, you’re not giving what you should.”

I have high hopes that if you want to change and grow your business, you’ll donate your way to amazing profits all while supporting a great sense of community right where you live and work.

Remember the old adage that you have to spend money to make money? I’m excited to say I might have found a better way. The $96 dollars I spent in materials raised $8000 for good causes. In addition, it brought $27,000 to my business. What goes around comes around? I’ll take that, thank you.



Sophie LaneArticle written by Sophie Lane.

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