Monetizing Your Cause’s Archives

Some causes have been around long enough that they have a mountainous inventory of really great communications items that could potentially be monetized. But how?

The challenge is more common than you might think. The Muscular Dystrophy Association is sitting on hundreds of hours of variety-show entertainment performed on its annual telethon since 1966. Assuming it owns clear rights to those performances, the MDA ought to be able somehow monetize that inventory. My old employer, the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, has similar if far less extensive inventory of entertainment performances.

Likewise the National 4-H Council has 110 years-worth of posters and the like commissioned from the best graphic artists of the day. I know because I’ve personally seen the tiniest fraction of it. Wouldn’t the 4-H Council love to realize some proceeds from its treasure trove of communications materials?

Long-standing causes like the Audubon Society, the March of Dimes, Federal Duck Stamps, and others almost certainly have asked how they can wrest money from their own extensive archives.

A firm in Seattle has one piece of the puzzle.

During the 1930s a number of American artists did work for the Work Projects Administration (WPA) and an alphabet soup of other federal government agencies meant to put people to work. There are fabulous murals in post offices and other Federal buildings of the era, for instance, and thousands of photographs including Dorothea Lange’s iconic ‘Migrant Mother,’ captured in 1936.

One of the agencies that benefited was the National Park Service. Between 1936 and 1941 the WPA commissioned at least 35,000 poster designs, although only a fraction of that was for the National Park Service. Now an online retailer called Ranger Doug Enterprises is selling reproductions of 16 vintage posters from the era along with contemporary posters designed in the old WPA style, and benefiting National Parks in the United States.

The 13” x 18” posters, both the 1930s era and their contemporary cousins sell at RangerDoug.com for $40. Ranger Doug Enterprises promises to give 1 percent of proceeds to the National Parks for arts education programs. Whether that’s in lieu of or in addition to any licensing fees isn’t clear.

For that matter, in this age of print-on-demand, a cause with a cool archive of communications materials that was willing to set up an e-commerce website could probably manage its own monetization strategy, or at least partner with a printer to print and fulfill orders.

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