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Non-Profits Expand with Brand Licensing image

Non-Profits Expand with Brand Licensing

Among the aftereffects of the pandemic has been non-profit organizations’ newfound focus on brand licensing.

It’s not that museums, parks, and other non-profit organizations were strangers to licensing pre-pandemic. But after being closed and stripped of admissions (a major revenue source), many organizations are now placing a broader emphasis on licensing.

For example, toymaker Melissa & Doug announced a nine-piece National Park Foundation-licensed range that’s set to launch this fall. The collection of puzzles and toys is inspired by parks like Yellowstone, Acadia, and Grand Canyon. Meanwhile, Britannica Home Fashions expanded distribution of National Wildlife Federation-themed pillows, sheets, comforter sets, and rugs on March 1 to Kroger’s 130-store Fred Meyer chain.

This week at the New York Home Fashions Market, textiles supplier Levinsohn introduced a collection of Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation-licensed decorative pillows based on the famed architect’s designs. And Greentouch has launched bathroom vanities, mirrors, and wall cabinets inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright through Lowe’s eCommerce site that complement Brizo’s faucets, towel bars, and wall shelves.

Licensing was hardly new for non-profits, but is suddenly became extremely valuable during the pandemic, said Ilana Wilensky, President of Jewel Branding & Licensing, which represents the National Wildlife Federation, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and the New York Botanical Garden. “It was a way to diversify their revenue, so they were not relying—in many cases—on visitation. And it helped build awareness for a brand that might only be known in certain regions and allowed them to be experienced outside the walls of a building.”

This increased focus on licensing also comes at a time of increasing demand from consumers for cause-based products. In the case of Melissa & Doug, the company is donating $1 million over three years to the National Park Foundation, said Sofia Dumery, SVP of Design at Melissa & Doug.

This emphasis on giving back also connects nicely with many brands’ efforts around storytelling to appeal to consumers seeking more details about the products they buy.

“There are those storytelling components that have become really important that can’t be told as easily on a retail shelf, but on a website they can be,” Wilensky said. “It’s important that when they launch products, they include that story and create that connection. That is what makes it appealing to a consumer.”

For many non-profit organizations, that storytelling is driven by their deep archive of artwork, artifacts, or—in the case of national parks—wildlife and rich history. That information also informs licensees’ offerings, allowing them to develop a wide range of product options. Having access to these archives can also speed up the approval process, licensing executives said.

For Steelcase—which produced the original furniture for Wright’s  SC Johnson Administration Building in Racine, WI in 1939 and has an ongoing stewardship for his Meyer May House in Grand Rapids, MI—having that rich history allowed the company to produce a new high-end range of office furniture, including a Frank Lloyd Wright Racine Signature Desk that sells for $9,750.

For Melissa & Doug, Dumery said access to information from the National Park Foundation allowed the toymaker to create a range that lasts, that is on brand for both partners, and that is strong enough to succeed at mass retail. “For both of us, it is wanting to go beyond the park [stores] and bring the parks to mass retailers. It’s about expanding awareness of the parks, starting with the youngest consumers.”

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