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How To Increase Brand Recognition And Fundraising With Set It And Forget It Approach:

A Step-By-Step Guide To Creating And Selling Merchandise Online

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Why Merchandise Makes Sense

People support what they know. Advertising and marketing have recognized this for decades. The more familiarity you can create for your organization, the more likely people are to want to get behind it. 

There are many amazing causes to give to and support. Currently, there are over 10 million nonprofits worldwide and 1.5 million in the United States alone. That can be daunting, but don’t worry, according to the United States’ population census there are currently 335,755,690 Americans (as of writing this article) and 56% of them gave to charity in 2021. 

This is all to say, there is a lot of competition out there, but there are also a lot of donors ready to support your cause. That is, if they learn to know, like, and trust it. 

One of the ways you can increase familiarity and brand recognition for your cause is to create and distribute merchandise. I know, this can sound pretty basic, but there are a lot of organizations out there that haven’t tapped into this form of marketing and dare I say, fundraising. 

Having strategically branded and crafted merchandise to sell is something any organization can do, as long as it supports the cause and main mission of your organization. 

Here’s how!

How to sell merchandise with ease through dropshipping

Through the art of dropshipping, an organization can design and create products for individuals to purchase without having to stock and sell the products themselves. One of the reasons organizations shy away from selling goods to support their cause is the extra inventory, accounting, and work involved. However, third party companies make merchandising possible and easy. 

According to Shopify, “dropshipping is an order fulfillment method where a business doesn’t keep the products it sells in stock. Instead, the seller purchases inventory as needed from a third party – usually a wholesaler or manufacturer – to fulfill orders.”

In other words, as the nonprofit, you design and market the products, but another company actually produces and ships them to the individual. Think of Amazon, where you simply go online and purchase the product and it arrives at your door. This is the experience your customers and donors can have when they support your organization through shopping your merchandise. 

In short, selling merchandise helps give your donors another way to support you, gives them an item to keep around their house and home to remind them of you (most likely resulting in other gifts or donations down the road), offers buyers a chance to give a gift from your organization to another individual who may support you, and even helps raise profits for your organization through the margins made on the products. 

This can be a great option for nonprofits looking to sell merchandise as a way to raise funds or promote their cause. 

Intrigued by the idea? 

Here are some steps to get started with dropshipping for your nonprofit

1. Research and choose a dropshipping supplier

There are many companies that offer dropshipping services. Some popular options include Shopify and Oberlo. Take some time to look into the different suppliers to find one that offers the types of products you want to sell, and has a good reputation.

2. Set up your online store

In order to sell your merchandise, you’ll need to set up an online store. There are many options for creating an online store, such as using a platform like Shopify, Etsy, or WooCommerce. Choose the option that works best for your needs, aesthetic, and budget as there is typically some cost associated with this.

3. Fill your store

It is now time to add products to your store. You can do this by connecting your store to your dropshipping supplier using a platform like Oberlo or by manually adding products and their details to your store. Pro Tip: Make sure to include high-quality product photos and detailed descriptions.

4. Set up payment and shipping

Now, you’ll need to set up a way for customers to pay for their purchases and choose a shipping method. You can use a payment gateway like PayPal or Stripe, and choose from a variety of shipping options, such as standard shipping or expedited shipping. Many times, the platforms you have selected will guide you through this process. 

Dropshipping can be a convenient and cost-effective way for nonprofits to sell merchandise and raise funds. With a little planning and some online marketing, you can get your dropshipping venture off the ground and start making a difference.

Product selection and design

If you are now on board with the idea of dropshipping for merchandise but are a little lost as to what to sell, let’s get into a little more detail about how to choose and design products. 

Remember, your product should somehow relate to your organization.

For example, if you are an animal welfare organization, perhaps dog bowls or pet toys with your logo or designs on them would be appropriate. 

If your organization is environmentally focused, consider creating reusable cups or straws. 

If you are more educationally inclined, designing and selling notebooks, backpacks, and pens would be a great first step.

Explore the products the dropshipping site you chose has to offer and think about what your audience may want. Every nonprofit audience is different so doing some demographical research on what sells would be helpful for you as well. 

Adding more products to your collection can’t hurt. Remember, with the dropshipping model, you only pay for what you sell. 

When it comes to the products you choose, you can get creative. If your design is strong and has a good message, consider adding:

  • Canvases
  • Mugs
  • Cards
  • Candles
  • T-shirts and apparel 

As long as the message and branding are related to your organization, they can be considered items that are being used to help your nonprofit fulfill its mission.

Follow these tips to help your team create good branding and designs for your nonprofit

Once you have created an online shop and chosen which products you want to design and sell, the next step is to brand the products and create attractive designs to upload onto the products selected. In other words, the shops you have chosen have hundred of products to choose from, but they are typically blank. It is up to you and your team to create designs that can be uploaded onto the product. 

Pro Tip: Graphic design software like Canva can take a lot of the guesswork out of what looks good and can provide a springboard for your designs.

If you’d like a little more help when it comes to what to put on your items, read the tips below.

Identify your audience:  As with anything marketing or sales related, it’s important to research and understand who your nonprofit is seeking to connect with. This will help guide your branding decisions and ensure that your designs are effective in reaching and engaging your target audience.

Define your mission, vision, and values: Your branding should always reflect the mission, vision, and values of your organization. Consider what you stand for and what sets you apart from other nonprofits in your field.

Color palette: Colors are a very powerful tools in branding. Choose a color palette that reflects the personality of your organization. Choose a palette that reflects the tone and mood of your design. 

For a little guidance on what colors typically evoke what emotion, here are some common color representations used in branding:

  • Red: energy, passion, danger, excitement, power, hunger, love
  • Orange: fun, creativity, warmth
  • Yellow: happiness, optimism, caution, cheer
  • Green: earthiness, nature, growth, prosperity, calm
  • Blue: depth, trust, intelligence, stability, nature
  • Purple: wisdom, luxury, spirituality, mystery
  • Pink: love, innocence, femininity, playfulness, caring
  • Brown: stability, reliability, earthiness, comfort
  • Black: mystery, sophistication, power, elegance, classic
  • White: simplicity, purity, cleanliness, class

Please remember, these color representations are not set in stone and can vary depending on context. It is always important to put a lot of thought into the intended tone and message of a brand and choose a color palette that aligns with those goals.

Design a logo: Your logo is the key element of your branding. It should be simple, attractive, and memorable. 

Select fonts: The font you choose to use in your branding and designs send a message as well. Try to choose a font that is easy to read and communicates the tone of your organization.

Use high-quality visuals: Visuals are a key part of branding, so it’s important to use high-quality images and graphics that reflect your organization and its mission.

Be consistent: Consistency is key in branding. Use the same color palette, fonts, and visuals consistently across all of your marketing materials to create a cohesive brand identity.

Develop a concept: Before you start designing, take some time to brainstorm and develop a concept for your design. This will help to ensure that your design has a clear purpose and direction.

Keep it simple: Simple designs are often the most effective. Think of McDonalds – it’s just a yellow M on a red background, but we could all recognize it from anywhere. Avoid cluttering your design with too many elements and focus on creating a clear and cohesive message.

How to market your items

Once your store is set up and ready to go, it’s time to start spreading the word. You can use social media, email marketing, and other methods to let people know about your merchandise and the cause it supports. Marketing your merchandise won’t be much different than any other marketing effort when it comes to the steps needed and methods used. 

Here are some basic marketing tips for getting your merchandise off the ground:

1. Identify your target audience

Before you start marketing your merchandise, it’s important to understand who you are trying to reach and what types of products they might be interested in. Try to do some research on your audience’s demographics such as age, gender, and location. This will help you know what products to showcase first.

2. Develop a marketing plan

Work with your team to create a marketing plan that outlines the strategies and tactics you will use to promote your merchandise. This could include tactics such as a giftshop located at your physical office or vicinity, social media marketing on your platforms, email marketing to your constituents, and in-person events like pop up shops or your next gala. 

3. Use social media 

Depending on your target audience, social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter can be powerful tools for promoting your merchandise. Be sure to use these platforms to share pictures and descriptions about your products, engage with your audience, and drive traffic to your website or store.

4. Create email campaigns

Email marketing can be an effective way to reach and engage with potential customers because it’s delivered straight to them. Email marketing helps you know what percentage of emails sent are opened and what links are clicked on by your audience. Create email campaigns that showcase your products and provide valuable content to your subscribers. Consider how you can also include a story of someone you’ve served or a result you have gotten to remind your audience what they are supporting when they purchase something from you. 

5. Host in-person events

Holding in-person shopping opportunities and events can be a great way to showcase your merchandise and connect with potential customers. Think about hosting a pop-up shop or partnering with local businesses to host events. Consider adding your products to your next silent auction, or include a list of products in your next newsletter or on site at your organization if you have one. Ask that board members share new products with their contacts.

6. Offer discounts and promotions

As with any commerce, offering discounts and promotions can be a great way to drive sales and generate buzz about your products. Consider offering discounts to new customers or running promotions for limited periods of time to create a sense of urgency. Also consider running discounts and promotions on days that are symbolic to your organization or on major fundraising days like Giving Tuesday. Encourage board members, staff, and volunteers to wear and showcase items from your shop for some free promotion. 

7. Bonus Pro Tip

When it comes to the legalities of selling merchandise, be sure you are covering your organization. As mentioned, nonprofit organizations are typically allowed to sell merchandise as long as the profits from the sales are used to further the organization’s core mission. 

However, as with any company or organization, there may be certain legal requirements that need to be followed. In the United States, nonprofits are generally required to obtain a sales tax exemption in order to sell merchandise tax-free. In some instances, the organization may also need to register with the state as a sales tax vendor. When it comes to sales tax, nonprofits typically don’t have to pay sales tax on what they sell unless it has gone over a certain amount or unless you have sold merchandise for a certain time period. Each state may have its own unique laws on sales tax so please do your research. If you have sold enough merchandise to hit the sales tax threshold, all you need to do is begin to add sales tax onto your customers tab, be sure to track how much sales tax has been collected, and pay it to the government when the time comes. Please check with your auditors or accountant on your state’s particular laws and act accordingly. 

Additionally, also look into obtaining any necessary licenses or permits in order to sell merchandise, depending on the nature of the products being sold and the location where the sales are taking place. For example, a nonprofit that sells food products may need to obtain a food handling permit, and a nonprofit that sells products online may need to obtain a business license from the state in which it is located. 

While it’s always important for a nonprofit to carefully research and follow any applicable legal requirements, don’t let any of these items discourage you from beginning to sell your merchandise. Most of the time these laws are easy to oblige and only take a few hours of research to make sure you are compliant. 

In sum, if you follow these steps to set up an online store with products that represent your mission and brand, you will be able to increase your revenue for your mission, give your donors and supporters another way to connect with you, and increase your brand recognition. It’s a win, win, win!

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