Vehicles for Change, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, approached University of Baltimore students to find strategic ways to generate more revenue from the 1,700 vehicles that are donated each year. Vehicles for Change does a great job of creating their own revenue from multiple different sources outside of traditional philanthropy. This includes an automotive garage that does at-cost work on cars, a car re-sale lot, and selling any other donated car at public auctions or to a junk yard. Making just $50 more per vehicle, would help make Vehicles for Change $85,000 worth of revenue each year. For a nonprofit with a budget just under $4 million, this is a transformational amount of money. Our group came up with two focus areas for Vehicles for Change. The first is to establish their own online auction platform. This would be managed and promoted in-house. This would be an extension of the existing program “Freedom Wheels.” The secondrecommendation includes investing in themselves when it comes to marketing. We will be recommending strategies including search engine optimization, paid social media marketing, and other strategies that can be used to gain media attention and to motivate new donors. These marketing suggestions will be instrumental in the implementation of the online auction but can benefit the organization even if they choose to forgo this recommendation.
Business Strategy Recommendations
The first strategy we recommend is to expand upon the Vehicles for Change program, Freedom Wheels. This program is a great way to generate extra revenue for the organization, but it does not have a very big reach. We recommend two specific strategies to do this; build an online auction portal with the ability to see the car in person and implement new search engine optimization and marketing strategies.
Implementing an online auction would provide many benefits to Vehicles for Change. The first benefit includes reducing the transportation of cars to auction. This saves Vehicles for change time and towing expenses. This also benefits the environment with less emissions exhausted into the world. Vehicles for Change will have more control over how long the cars are “live” on auction. Based on the number of bids they are getting on each car they can keep the auction open longer to increase the price. Finally, live auctions houses have a lot of fees associated with them. Based on the statistics provided by Vehicles for Change, the organization spends a minimum of $85,000 on auction fees. VFC pays $50 to auction fees for cars that are sold under $500 and $150 for cars that are sold over $500.
In order to implement this expansion of Freedom Wheels, VFC needs to purchase an online auction platform, these range from $500 – $5,000 per year. Here is a link to review a few different platforms that are good for nonprofits. The next step is to determine a staff person to manage this. They need to be able to photograph the vehicles and upload the pictures to the platform. This person should have marketing and communication skills. Additionally, they need to have some knowledge of cars in order to promote them correctly and answer any questions that come up on the platform. The platform should have a feature that allows people to schedule appointments to see the vehicles in person on the Freedom Wheels lot. The next step is building brand awareness about this auction and the program.
During our research, we discovered that VFC does not show up very high up in a Google search. Depending on the location of our team members, sometimes it did not even appear on the first page. In order to build this project and expand the reach of shoppers, this needs to change. Implementing search engine optimization marketing strategies. Boosting where you appear on a Google search can help you compete with larger networks for a cheap price. These strategies will help you expand your network and drive web traffic, ending up with more bids on cars, donations and awareness of your organization.
The top strategies that are recommended to improve your rankings include having a mobile friendly website, creating quality content, using key words and “back links.” VFC does a few of these things extremely well. The website is mobile friendly with a lot of quality content and blog posts. The Social Media channels compliment the website well and drive viewers back to the site using links.Visuals and video are recommended to help boost SEO rankings, but VFC does a great job with producing these and putting them on the website as well as the social media channels.
The two strategies that do not seem to be used as much, at least from an outsiders perspective are key words and “backlinks,” these two things will be critical to boosting VFC’s rankings. To learn more about what key words you need to focus on, use tools like Google Ads Keyword Planner and Semrush.
“Backlinks” means having your website URL on other website so those audiences can click back to your site. Not only does this manually drive people to your site, but this shows Google that you are a credible and trusted website. We encourage VFC to ask their partners to put their link on their sites. We would also encourage VFC to ask any media who does a story on the programs to include a website link in the article.
A few other tips include renaming photos with your keywords before you upload them onto the website, using keywords in the tittles of your blog posts. Google likes to see their own products being used, so if you have any reason to put a presentation on your website, be sure to use Google Slides.
Our next recommendation is to invest in Google Ads, this way you are the organization that comes up first on the google search when people search for your keywords. We know that this is an investment, but we believe it will be critical to getting the virtual auction up and running.
Moving on to our general marketing strategy recommendations that will continue to benefit your SEO rankings. We want VFC to really tap into what makes them different from other nonprofits who accept cars as donations. VFC uses these cars to further their mission, most other nonprofits only use these for a financial gain, not to help the community. This can generate more donations, and possibly cars that are in better shape.
Next, we recommend focusing more on social media marketing and shying away from radio public service announcements. as part of your advertising campaign. Unless the PSAs are donated, social media marketing is significantly cheaper and very effective.