Keeping it Moving: Furniture Bank’s Supply Chain for Social Good

samanthamehra    November 7, 2017

Toronto’s Furniture Bank moves people in countless ways. Their mission, to bring gently used furniture (for free) into the lives of people transitioning out of homelessness; newly-landed refugees; people transitioning out of abusive situations; and more, is no easy task. Through partnerships with 1-800-GOT-JUNK (a waste-collection organization which often comes across gently-used furniture and housewares), You Move Me (an associated moving company), and others, Furniture Bank is able to meet the demands of this important community service. Added to this chain is a long list of social service agencies whose role it is to identify clients in dire need of furnishings. From the moment a citizen picks up the phone and asks how they can contribute their used furniture to Furniture Bank, the wheels are set in motion with the associated ‘supplier’: The pickup and delivery of furniture to Furniture Bank, the sorting and curating of the materials, the partner agencies identifying candidates/families in need, and clients/families visiting Furniture Bank and selecting the furniture that will bring dignity to their homes and their lives.

Some more on Furniture Bank’s daily mission: Martin’s Story

Using Social for Social Good: The Unique Supply Chain of Furniture Bank’s Chair Affair

Certainly these partnerships, when in play, perform an important community service that meets the supply and demand of the whole enterprise. And, too, the strength and sustainability of these relationships are of utmost importance. Through these partnerships, 1-800-GOT-JUNK, You Move Me, social agency partners, and Furniture Bank itself are able to reach each others’ online communities through sharing social posts and acknowledging collaborations on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which contributes to an overall brand awareness for all “suppliers” and publicly acknowledges and strengthens these partnerships.

This network of suppliers expanded recently, with the help of social media, via a marketing campaign leading up to its annual fundraiser, aptly titled the “Chair Affair”. Social media had an important part to play in generating interest, reaching communities, and meeting revenue and fundraising targets for this event. It also helped Furniture Bank to entrench existing relationships among suppliers, build networks, and create a demand for whole new subsets of suppliers: designers, sponsors, auction donors, and social media followers with future needs for furniture removal.

Much of the work that the digital sphere did for the Furniture Bank and its fundraiser is in the realm of exposure and engagement. Catriona Delaney, Community Manager at Furniture Bank believes, “At a grassroots level, social media provides the public with instant access to Furniture Bank. This means our suppliers (public, furniture manufacturers, partners) can initiate engagement at any time and vice versa. From there, as a supplier ourselves, social service agencies can immediately source much needed information on client eligibility and initiate access to our good for their clients. Social media drives most of our direct communication – from Facebook and messenger, pointing to our website, engaging folks emotionally through Instagram visuals and in shout-outs on Twitter. We live in a virtual landscape where visibility is king.” (Interview, 6 November 2017).

In its annual fundraising event, The Chair Affair, Furniture Bank curates the auction of various goods, from experiences, to trips, to event tickets, to other luxury items. The most niche and interesting portion of this annual donation-driven auction is the inclusion of chairs emerging from the workrooms of high-end local designers. Designers are initially invited to pick out a chair from the Furniture Bank lot, redesign and reupholster it, and then have it auctioned off to the highest bidder which acts as a donation to the organization. This event has been increasingly popular in the interior design world over the last seven years; part of the ongoing success and piquing of interest comes from the Furniture Bank’s creation of a demand on this community. Says Delaney, “Firstly, there has been no specific demand for designers to upcycle chairs. It’s a very niche concept. We manufactured the demand in the design industry, then we controlled the context with our messaging on social, and created competition in the design community. When this was taken up by the designers, we then supplied the materials and, when the chairs were done, we accessed their consumers (and our partners) to sell the goods. Their social networks were essential to our success.”

Thus, the designers are an essential supplier to this process, and are contributing their know-how and time at no charge. Ensuring the constant flow of designers every year, willing to donate their time, is important to the ongoing success of the auction and on a larger scale, the overall fundraising deliverables of the organization.

In past years, the auction was held live at the event itself, its reach only as big as those in the room. This year, however, a new strategy was executed, with a buzz initiated on Furniture Bank’s social media channels, and those of its sponsors and donors. This new strategy helped to close the supply chain:

”Last year, we became aware of some fatigue around the live auction of chairs, specifically. By switching to online auctioning this year, we put more power over the silent auction success into the hands of our community. The more they shared, the better pieces did at auction – this leveled the playing field in many respects, and so this year, all the chairs were auctioned off, whereas last year, at live auction, some designers chairs were not even bid on. I would say we closed a circle on social in the supply chain: From supplying chairs, up-cycling them, posting and auctioning – at all times we were speaking with the manufacturers (designers) and consumers simultaneously. Communication is so direct and timely that the network spread happens in a flash We are up $10,000 on our silent auction numbers this year.”

Social media came into play in several ways due to the designers’ chairs being set up as silent auction items online, using a platform called Givergy. This way, it was easier to spread knowledge of the chairs beyond the confines of the physical event space, promote earlier and more often, share the links and tag the designers (thereby reaching a deeper community of followers and contributing to overall brand awareness); and most importantly: ensure a supply of future designers (and on a more global scale, auction donors and sponsors) who would be interested in being a part of this large-scale event in future.

Lessons for Others

A “Moving” Social Strategy

  • Goals: To reach maximum amount of potential bidders, encourage online bidding, advertise the event, entrench relationships with partners, garner positive online reviews, and close the supply chain. 
  • Tactics: In a  social media-driven campaign, designed chairs (auction items) were photographed and, beginning a month before the actual event, chairs and their designers were described, featured, and tagged on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Outcomes: Overall boost in page followers, increased awareness of designers (encouraging repeat involvement of those designers), increased awareness of partnerships, increased brand awareness for all parties (encouraging future participation and supply), increased interest in design community (encouraging future participation and supply) and mostly importantly: meeting fundraising goals and setting the path for higher ones in future years.
  • Other: Active Facebook rating system and response time.
  • Lastly: Using social media as a way of strengthening partnerships, keeping the supply chain flowing year after year, and importantly: using social for social good.

Organization: Furniture Bank
Industry: Charity, Community Service
Name of Organization Contact: Catriona Delaney, Community Manager

Authored by: Samantha Donaldson

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


References

Clarke, Catrina. “Chairs get second shot at love after Chair Affair auction.” (13 November 2015). Retrieved on November 5, 2017 from Toronto Star Online, https://www.thestar.com/life/2015/11/13/chairs-get-second-shot-at-love-after-chair-affair-auction.html

Lockhart, Jane. “How to Get Rid of Unwanted Furniture and Get a Tax Receipt.” (6 November 2017). Retrieved November 7, 2017 from Jane Lockhart’s Blog, http://www.janelockhart.com/blog/how-to-get-rid-of-unwanted-furniture-in-toronto-and-get-a-tax-receipt/?platform=hootsuite

Sanderson, Vicky. “Chair Affair gala stands up for the right to sit down.” (22 October 2016). Retrieved November 5, 2017 from Toronto Star Online, https://www.thestar.com/life/homes/2016/10/22/chair-affair-gala-stands-up-for-the-right-to-sit-down.html

Email Interview. Catriona Delaney, Community Manager. 7 November 2017.

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