Nonprofit Merchandise: How to Market Your Products with graphics of tee shirt, water bottle, notebook, and hat

Nonprofit Merchandise: How to Market Your Products

This blog is a guest post by the team at Bonfire

Selling merchandise can be a helpful additional revenue source. Branded products, such as t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, and even pet clothing, allow your nonprofit’s most passionate supporters to better represent your cause and make for thoughtful gifts. However, supporters can only buy your merchandise if they know it exists.  

Asking for donations where supporters receive no tangible products or services in return has likely already made the challenges of marketing apparent. Marketing has only gotten more complex over the years as nonprofits need to consider digital promotional methods such as SEO, social media presence, and targeted online advertisements. 

To help your nonprofit refine your marketing strategy, this article will explore five ways to promote your merchandise: 

  • Assess your audience
  • Create attention-grabbing designs
  • Encourage supporters to help promote your products
  • Sell merchandise at events 
  • Optimize your website 

 

As you read through these tips, remember that the best marketing strategy for your nonprofit will depend on your cause, products, and audience. With that in mind, let’s start by exploring how to assess that audience. 

Assess your audience

Before designing a new product, you should determine who that product is for. In most cases, your nonprofit’s primary audience will be your current supporter base, so take the time to review the data you have collected throughout your relationship with them. Of course, there are a few additional factors you will need to consider when marketing a physical product rather than a donation opportunity. 

Specifically, for your nonprofit merchandise, assess your audience by:

  • Reviewing demographic data. Who are your supporters? While a younger demographic may want different products than an older one, consider other factors, as well. For example, what activities do your supporters like to participate in? A nonprofit with a young, athletic audience will likely prefer water bottles, baseball caps, and tank tops, whereas an organization with older supporters, who prefer events such as galas and formal dinners, may seek different merchandise opportunities. 
  • Considering marketing channels. Determine what marketing channels your supporters frequent and how friendly those channels are for marketing merchandise. For example, while many of your supporters may use Twitter, the platform is noticeably less friendly to merchandise marketing than a site like Instagram, which provides greater control over how your images are displayed. 
  • Checking out design trends. What styles are your supporters currently buying? Explore the design choices of other nonprofits and organizations promoting t-shirts, hoodies, and other branded clothing. This research will allow you to begin drafting designs that do not just represent your nonprofit, but are interesting and attractive enough that supporters will be excited to purchase them for their own sake. 

To learn more about your audience’s preferences, consider asking them through surveys and online polls. Doing so can help your marketing efforts in the long-run, since supporters will be aware of your merchandise early on and will feel like they played a role in designing it. 

Create attention-grabbing designs

Designing stylish, attention-grabbing clothing is a skill, and if your nonprofit doesn’t have a graphic designer on staff, it can be difficult to know where to get started. Fortunately, there are a few basic questions you can answer first to guide your merch creation process

  • What types of items do you want to sell? As mentioned, take the time to analyze your audience to understand what types of items they would most want to buy. Would it make sense to design hoodies and long sleeve shirts, or would your supporters prefer lightweight t-shirts and tank tops? The style of clothing will impact its overall design, so determine what your canvas will be before getting too far into the design process. 
  • What styles and colors would you like to feature? Most nonprofits will rely on their brand colors and logo, but consider how you can use these elements as a jumping off point. What colors contrast well with your brand elements? Or does your nonprofit want to try adding new illustrations and visual elements in addition to your logo?
  • Are you promoting a specific initiative or your nonprofit in general? Consider the different aspects of your nonprofit and how your designs can reflect those aspects. For example, a conservation group may feature images of a variety of animals they aim to protect or use stylized images of nature to draw attention to other design elements, such as centering a t-shirt’s text ina flower. 

If your nonprofit has questions about graphic design or needs more hands-on help creating designs, consider partnering with a merchandise platform with design templates or even consulting services. 

Encourage supporters to help promote your products

When marketing your products, consider how you can take a multi-channel approach, reaching out through email, social media, and even digital advertisements. To make an even stronger impression, however, consider how you can get your supporters involved to help promote your merchandise. 

Often, shoppers make purchases based on recommendations from people they know personally, rather than just from ads alone. With the added meaning behind buying a product that supports a cause that matters to a friend or family member, your supporters can be one of your strongest marketing assets. 

Here are a few ways you can get your supporters involved: 

 

  • Encourage supporters to show off their purchases online. Branded apparel can be used to continue marketing your nonprofit every time your supporters wear it in public. Encourage them to show off their new merchandise by posting photos of themselves wearing it on social media and sharing links to your nonprofit’s online store in their posts. 
  • Host a peer-to-peer campaign. During a peer-to-peer campaign, your supporters will fundraise on your behalf by asking their friends and family to consider donating to your cause. To promote your merchandise, try running a peer-to-peer t-shirt campaign. During this fundraiser, your supporters will instead ask their network to buy specific t-shirts, which can even be customized by the supporter. 
  • Partner with influencers. Do any of your supporters have large followings online or are connected to someone who does? If so, this could be an opportunity to get your nonprofit in front of new audiences by partnering with an influencer. If your organization would prefer to stay in your industry and the nonprofit space, consider if any of your staff or board members have connections to relevant nonprofit influencers who may be willing to share your marketing posts. 

The potential of effective marketing from your supporters is just one more reason why your nonprofit should invest in creating attractive, high-quality merchandise. Before partnering with a t-shirt design platform, research the quality of their items and reach out to their team to ask about sizes, materials, and other questions that may not be answered on their website. 

Sell merchandise at events

While online shopping has risen in popularity over the last few years, many of your supporters will still appreciate the chance to see your merchandise in person before making a purchase. You can give them this opportunity by setting up merchandise booths at your events. 

When selling merchandise at your events, take into account what type of event it is when deciding which of your products to put on display. For example, while your nonprofit might have a new selection of branded mugs, it would likely be more appropriate to promote your t-shirts, water bottles, and other outdoor-friendly items at your next walkathon

Consider making event-specific merchandise. For instance, at that same walkathon, you might also create t-shirts that have the name and date of the event printed on them. That way, supporters can purchase an item reminding them of the event and positive experience they had. Plus, by making the t-shirt event exclusive, supporters may feel a stronger urge to buy it, knowing that this is their only chance. 

Optimize your website

To make a purchase, supporters will need to navigate to your website. The shopping experience they find there should be convenient, compelling, and secure. To optimize your on-site experience, consider reviewing other nonprofit websites to determine what features you like and could implement on your site. 

To drive more traffic to your website and optimize it for marketing purposes, consider following these strategies: 

  • Partner with an eCommerce platform. When researching merchandise creation platforms, look for a service with eCommerce tools that will help you create an online store. Ensure your eCommerce site is highly customizable and will allow you to add your organization’s logo and brand color to reassure visitors that they are still making purchases from your organization, even if they’re navigated to a different website. 
  • Implement SEO best practices. Search engine optimization can help your organization improve your organic traffic, website visits from individuals searching relevant keywords who happen to click on your content. Optimize your website for search engines by choosing specific keywords individuals interested in supporting your cause are likely to search. For example, a nonprofit that focuses on removing garbage from the ocean might create a blog post optimized for the keyword “beach clean-up.” 
  • Apply for the Google Ad Grant. The Google Ad Grant provides nonprofits with a set amount of funds they can use to create ad campaigns on Google. These campaigns can put your website in front of relevant audiences, right at the top of the search results page. To apply for the Google Ad Grant, research how you can get your website ready or consider partnering with a Google Ad Grant consultant to handle the preparation process for you. 

Remember that keeping your website up to date will be an ongoing process. Ensure your staff has the knowledge to maintain your website, such as removing outdated content, setting up redirect chains, compressing images, updating your merchandise catalog, and other relevant tasks. 

Effective marketing strategies can take time to develop, but to ensure your nonprofit’s first product launch is a success, research your target audience and partner with a helpful merchandise creation platform. From there, spend time exploring the variety of marketing channels available to share your products in the places where they’re the most likely to get noticed and start selling. E-commerce is a great way to expand your nonprofit’s brand and earn more revenue for your mission!

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