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3 Ways Fundraising Merchandise Attracts And Engages Donors

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Merchandise fundraising has been used for years to help nonprofits and individuals raise additional funds. Consider the last time you went to a concert; did you purchase or consider purchasing a sweatshirt to commemorate the experience? What about the last 5K you ran; did you receive a t-shirt after registering?

You see merchandise in many different places each day, but have you ever stopped to consider why?

Merchandise fundraising does more than simply raise money for your cause. It’s also a valuable tool to attract and engage your supporters! 

While you work to attract new donors, you should also be thinking ahead to how you will retain them in the future. Branded merchandise is a great way to keep your community of donors engaged long-term, not just in the here-and-now. Here’s how: 

  1. Selling merchandise diversifies donor contribution options.
  2. Merchandise fundraising solidifies partnerships.
  3. Branded merchandise promotes brand awareness.

When it comes to fundraising for your nonprofit, selling branded merchandise serves multiple purposes at the same time. You can raise money for your cause while also supporting your strategy to build relationships with donors.

1. Selling merchandise diversifies donor contribution options.

When people have more options to make a difference for a cause they care about, they can choose the one that’s most convenient for them. This means that some people may find online donations the best way to give, others may prefer recurring automated contributions, volunteering, or acting as a fundraiser for a peer-to-peer campaign. But a lot of your supporters will prefer receiving something in return for their contribution. This is where merchandise fundraising comes in.

Merchandise fundraising allows your supporters to make a charitable donation to your nonprofit and in return, they’ll receive a new custom t-shirt, sweatshirt, or any other type of apparel. This type of fundraising is very unique because it feels less like a traditional donation and more like a normal online transaction. Because of this, it’s a much more appealing option for raising money for both the nonprofit and the supporters.

Some of our favorite fundraising merchandise strategies for nonprofits are:

  • Selling branded merchandise in person at an event
  • Opening an eCommerce store through a trusted provider or with website plugins
  • Crowdfunding with branded merchandise
  • Offering online order forms for specific campaigns

A lot of these options occur online, and there’s a good reason for it! Purchasing merchandise online builds up anticipation while the buyer is waiting for the item to arrive. When people order online, they receive an extra dose of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes people feel excited in anticipation. 

Therefore, when you sell branded merchandise online, not only do your supporters feel good about their philanthropic contribution, but they also get excited down the line when they receive their merchandise in the mail. 

Not only do merchandise sales provide the opportunity for donors to give in a new way, but there are also different ways to sell merchandise. These sales make people happy in more ways than one, which is a great first step to a more engaged donor. 

2. Merchandise fundraising solidifies partnerships.

Put yourself in your donor’s shoes for a minute. You bought a t-shirt for a cause you care a lot about. You know your money went to a good cause, plus, the shirt looked cool so you can’t wait to wear it! Then, the first time you wear it out in the world, someone asks you about it. You puff out your chest and explain to them the cause that you’ve supported and how they can help too.

In moments like these, the donor has become a true partner for your nonprofit.

All donors are nonprofit partners in a sense. They contribute to the cause, and those contributions are what allow the organization to continue doing good work.

However, when a donor crosses the line from giving privately in the safety of their own home to verbally and publicly supporting your nonprofit’s brand, they have truly solidified the partnership.

When your organization raises money, make sure you provide options for your supporters to share their involvement with your organization. You may choose to:

  • Provide social sharing buttons on your fundraising page
  • Ask supporters to post pictures wearing branded merchandise
  • Launch online campaigns where supporters can share fundraising initiatives and help your organization raise more money

You could also use merchandise to strengthen the relationships and partnerships you already have with your supporters. Try sending your major prospects your latest merchandise to foster your relationship with them. This is one way you can gently guide prospects to becoming major donors and stronger partners with the organization. 

3. Your merchandise promotes brand awareness.

This might seem somewhat obvious. Of course, branded merchandise supports your nonprofit’s brand. But there’s a lot more to your brand than logos, fonts, and colors.

Your organization’s brand represents the nonprofit itself: what you believe in, who you are, how you do it, and why you do what you do. The triad of mission, values, and vision are what make up the brand you’re trying to get across with branded merchandise. 

For this reason, you need to put a lot of thought into your brand and how you’re telling your story to your community. Fundraising with branded merchandise gives you an opportunity to share your story in a more creative fashion. You can:

  • Share your mission on your online store page
  • Provide campaign context for individual fundraising pages
  • Design t-shirts for different campaigns or aspects of your story
  • Ask supporters to come up with t-shirt designs based on their take on your story
  • Ask fundraisers to explain how they relate to specific aspects of your story before sharing the campaign with friends

While your mission is what’s important, your supporters may bring new perspectives to that mission. They may want to share the parts of the story they relate most to. This is the key to getting your brand name out there.

Your supporter can say, “This organization supports X, Y, and Z. I support that cause because…” This approach adds a personal element to your brand and helps carry it further. But it all starts with you explaining your organization’s story.

Supporters will share and promote your brand to others if you first promote it well to them. Selling branded merchandise simply opens up a platform for everyone to share the organization’s mission, values, and vision.

Merchandise is an incredible resource for more than just raising money. It’s used to diversify options for better donor relationships, to solidify partnerships with your supporters, and to increase awareness of your organization’s brand.

When you decide to launch a branded merch fundraiser, be sure to do all of the proper research and make the most of the campaign so that you will receive more results and better benefits from your fundraising efforts.

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  • Anna Withers

    Thanks so much for this post! To be clear though, is merchandise bought from NPOs actually still considered a donation? Am I supposed to be generating receipt/thank you letter language that lists the contribution minus FMV = tax deductible amount? Or is it just a straightforward sale??
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