Should You Set up a Swag Store for Your NonProfit?

store shelves with t shirts
Photo by Aden Ardenrich from Pexels

The purpose of a nonprofit organization is to raise money to further a mission. That mission might be feeding the homeless or spreading awareness about an issue. Nonprofits are not businesses in the traditional sense, in that they don’t provide a good or service for a profit.

However, think of the last time you went to a museum or animal sanctuary. Many places like these have gift shops where swag is sold. Setting up a swag store for your nonprofit means you can provide fun merchandise that patrons and donors can take home. 

So if you are asking yourself… “would my nonprofit benefit form having a swag store?” you have come to the right place! In this post we are going to review how a swag store can help your nonprofit.

Wait… can a nonprofit sell goods?

Good question – the answer to which is yes! A nonprofit can definitely sell goods. It might seem somewhat counter intuitive to sell goods and make a profit through a nonprofit. However, as long as those funds are properly taxed, it is perfectly okay for nonprofits to sell goods.

“To clarify, a nonprofit may raise money from typical fundraising and associated events. However, if financial gain occurs from unrelated activities than that profit must be taxed as business income. (1)”

Basically can sell goods to raise funds toward a goal, or tax the sales from goods as business income. So long as you can differentiate clearly come tax time, you should be all set to raise money from your store!

Why should you set up a swag store for your nonprofit? 

There are many benefits to setting up a swag store online for your nonprofit organization. There are financial as well as marketing benefits. It’s a good idea to review the reasons for setting up a store prior to doing so. That way you can up realistic goals, plan out how to market the store, and choose the right swag to complement the reasons you chose. 

More revenue

Selling cool stuff means more money at the end of the day. 

Donor fatigue is real! It happens when people stop donating to a charity, even if they have done so repeatedly before. To make donating more exciting, asking for donations in exchange for a cool mug or t-shirt can reinvigorate a donor’s interests. 

If you sell your merchandise outside of a specific fundraiser, it’s simply another way to bring funds into the organization.  People typically give out of emotional obligation or connection to a cause. It’s why you can’t help but grab that cute turtle plushie in the gift store of the zoo! If you offer a swag store that caters to those same feelings, people will be more tempted to open their wallets. 

At the end of the day, setting up a swag store is just another way to fund your amazing cause.

More brand awareness for your nonprofit

Selling swag to people who love your nonprofit means they are essentially paying to promote your organization! 

Think about it: if you sell t-shirts, hats, or stickers with your company’s logo on them, people will now be walking around displaying that logo. It’s another way to get your brand out into the world and in front of new eyes. If a donor buys a shirt and their friend asks, “where’d you get that awesome t-shirt?” the donor can then strike up a conversation that leads their friend to your website.

Honoring donors and volunteers

Swag is a fantastic way to just say thank you. After all, everyone likes swag!

Consider offering discounts to your swag store to people who have helped your nonprofit in its mission. For example, after a donation, send a donor an email with a 25% off coupon to your swag store. Or give volunteers a 50% off code to pick out something fun from the store after they help out at an event. 

People contribute to nonprofits out of the kindness of their hearts, usually without expecting anything in return. But that doesn’t mean that a thank you gift won’t go a long way!

List building 

When you sell items through a store, there is important information you must collect at the same time. That includes the buyers name and email address. With their permission, of course, you can add buyers to an email list. 

Email lists are great for continuing to keep in touch with people who have supported your organization. Consider emailing them with updates on your nonprofit, dates of events, new fundraisers, and alerts when new swag is added to the store.

Now that we know why we want to do it, let’s review how you can set up an online swag store for your nonprofit. 

What do you want to sell?

When thinking about whether or not you want to build a swag store, the swag itself is key! It’s not enough to throw your logo on some stuff and sell it. You have to figure out what items your buyers would want and what would complement your mission. The possibilities are pretty much endless. 

Some classic ideas include:

  • T-shirts
  • Mugs
  • Hats
  • Stickers
  • Keychains 
  • Tote bags

Some quirkier ideas include:

  • Phone cases
  • Framed art
  • Jewelry
  • Towels
  • Stationary 

The items you pick should be things that your community actually wants. If your audience is primarily men, you may want to focus on items that are more popular with guys. If your organization is focused on environmental conservation, reusable things like straws and tote bags are a smart choice. Everyone loves a classic t-shirt, but make sure what you choose meets the tone and branding of your organization!

Not sure what to pick? Poll your existing donors and volunteers to see what kind of merch they would be most excited about. Ask your social media followers which items they would want most. Or look at swag stores of nonprofits that do similar work to you!

Where does the money go?

When you get to work setting up a swag store for your nonprofit, you need to be 100% certain about where that money will go. Starting with this goal will tell you how a swag store can help your nonprofit in the long run.

A good chunk of it needs to go into running the store itself. You’ll need to be able to cover the costs of selling the items. That means the cost of the website and hosting, as well as creating and shipping the swag. 

Whatever is leftover is your profit. That can go toward your nonprofits’ expenses or toward a specific fundraising goal. Just make sure that you are charging enough to turn a profit. Many sites like Printful will help you calculate how much of a profit you can make on a single item.

What to do after setting up a swag store for your nonprofit

Simply setting up your swag store isn’t enough! You need to make sure that the store does more for your nonprofit than just selling merch. Here are a few ways you can benefit even further from your swag store sales.

Make sure you thank buyers after they buy! Customize your receipt email to include a heartfelt thank you. Include a photo or video that makes an emotional connection. Explain again what kind of a difference their purchase made. 

And remember to be specific! Maybe for every dollar they spent, one turtle is fed for one day. Saying thank you and reaffirming that their purchase made a difference is very important.

Ask them to share a photo or send a review. Social proof is a huge driving power in e-commerce. If your buyer shares a photo of them wearing or using their merch on social media, their friends and followers are more likely to buy as well. Not only that, they are advising your cause for you. 

A review or testimonial of the item or buying process is something you can use on your website to encourage more sales. This shows future buyers that people are already buying. Shoppers love to see your statements about quality backed up by people who have the product in their own hands.

Email them when you have new products. It’s important to collect email addresses of buyers for this reason. Say you sell mugs, hats, and t-shirts. Use your email marketing tools to segment or tag emails based on what products are purchased. That way, when you have a new t-shirt design in your store, you can email all the people who previously bought t-shirts and invite them to get a new one!

Look at your sales quarterly to evaluate what is selling and what isn’t. Making it a habit to review sales every three months or so can help out a lot. If you notice one item is really popular, investigate ways to leverage that. Maybe you should offer that item in more colors or sizes. Maybe you should put that item on the homepage of your website.

Likewise, make note of any items that are not selling much at all. It might be worthwhile to experiment with varieties of the product, add it to a sale section, or pull it from the store altogether. 

Update any totals to reflect your fundraising goals. If you are selling merchandise for fundraising, you may have to manually update any public displays. If you have a goal thermometer or meter on your website, make sure you are consistently updating it to reflect your total. 

How to set up your swag store using WordPress

In our next post, we will walk through all the steps of launching your own swag store using WordPress. You don’t need to be a professional designer or developer to create a beautiful store. We will talk about: 

  • The programs and software you should use to launch your swag store.
  • How to price items fairly while still keeping your goal profits in mind.
  • Where to go to find awesome designs.
  • How to add, edit, and remove items from your store.
  • How to write a great product description.
  • How to pull sales reports and totals.
  • The steps for building an email list through your store.

Look out for the walk through on our blog next week!

Do you already have a swag store? Link it in the comments below or tweet it at us: @cloud22com

Remember that your store needs to always be active, fast, and secure. A slow or sketchy store will turn off buyers pretty quickly. If using WordPress, the hosting you choose can ensure that your store is always up, looks great, and performs fast. We definitely count good hosting as a top priority within your software stack.

Cloud22 Managed WordPress Hosting checks every box. We manage your updates – making sure that when your theme developer releases an update or patch, you get it right away. We back up your site, just in case you make a wrong move in your theme settings.  Our servers are integrated with LiteSpeed cache and Cloudflare CDN, so the beautiful design you used your theme to build is served to visitors quickly.

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