When life throws a curve ball, some crumble and others hit the ball out of the park. Angel Guardians, Inc. is an example of the latter. The 501 c (3) agency was founded seven years ago by a family whose youngest of nine children, Tim, now 23, was born with Down syndrome. Tim’s developmental differences became a quality-of-life issue as his older siblings became teenagers and started leaving the house a lot to work and to hang out with friends. Tim didn’t have the same opportunities for independence, so his parents took matters into their own hands and formed the Very Special People (VSP) Club in 2005 for teenagers with cognitive and developmental disabilities. The members of this social club—formed to improve overall social development and quality of life—have been meeting every Friday and Saturday since 2005 for events like dancing, dinners, movies, games of pool, shuffleboard, air hockey, foosball and more.
But the VSP Club was just the beginning for this progressive agency.
Today, AngelWorks Career Center, a division of Angel Guardians, Inc. offers much more and is proving to be Nebraska’s most innovative provider of work-training to developmentally disabled adults in the area. The organization serves more than 80 men and women whose disabilities have limited their ability to gain or maintain competitive employment. AngelWorks helps by providing—among other services—life-skills training in sewing, furniture refurbishing, ceramics, art, and as of recently, in its new commercial kitchen. As a result of a grant the organization recently received it has created a “Free Lunch Café” that is open to the public and provides an opportunity to the organization’s clients to learn to prepare and serve healthy foods, while interacting with the local community. Taking inspiration from Panera Bread, the café allows community members to pay whatever they can for the food.
In order to fund its innovative programs, Angel Guardians relies on grants and individual donations, but finds that it’s important to generate additional revenue through for-profit avenues, like its two thrift stores, which accept donations six times a week. When Megan Malone, Tim’s sister, saw an opportunity to maximize the potential of the brand-name, high-value donations the thrift stores receive by taking the sales online, Angel Guardians launched the organization’s e-commerce business on eBay Giving Works in 2011. Now serving as manager of online sales, Megan said eBay seemed like the natural choice for reaching a national market without any overhead.
She was right. Taking sales online has increased the nonprofit’s average selling price per item from $3.99 in the thrift store to $26.71 on eBay, a 570% increase. The organization generates between $2,500 and $3,000 in sales per month today, but Megan aspires to hit $10,000 per month by the end of this year. Angel Guardians would like to turn the e-commerce shop (currently operated by two employees and a couple of clients) into a fully functioning department that provides job and programming opportunities to its clients.
So what’s the secret to Angel Guardians’ overall success and overwhelmingly positive feedback on eBay? Passion and ingenuity are a given. Plus:
- Staying on top of trends. It monitors what’s trending on eBay Fashion to shape its own eBay merchandizing strategy.
- Offering good prices. Angel Guardians sells brands like Roberto Cavalli, Helmut Lang and L.A.M.B at 10-20% off retail.
- Showing appreciation for the buyer. The organization includes a special gift in each package and plans to create a shipping station where its clients will handwrite “Thank You” notes and gift-wrap purchases.
- Showing appreciation for the donor. When Angel Guardians can identify who dropped off a large donation, it sends the donor a “Thank You” note and invites him/her back to tour its facility. Otherwise, volunteers who sort the donations take the time to thank people as they drop items off, promising them that they’ll use the donation well.
In June 2012, the eBay Foundation awarded a $10,000 grant to Angel Guardians. The organization’s Development Director, Joseph Kenney, said that this funding will support a newly established AngelWorks Art Studio and artist-in-residency program, which will bring in regional artists to collaborate with special needs clients on art projects that will ultimately be sold through eBay Giving Works.