Bottom Line Up Front: How can you help organizations survive a tough year AND engage a whole new subset of customers? This fundraising strategy breaks it down — so you can use your custom merch powers for good and start seeing some major results.
In 2021, nonprofits are hurting.
The local food bank. The cancer research foundation. The Boys and Girls Club you pass on your morning commute.
They’re not just faceless entities, strong and sturdy in any environment. They’re real people driven by real causes, impacting real lives. And they’ve been affected. Hugely.
2020 threw them off course in the same way that it threw all of us. It caused plans to disintegrate and operations to stall; it bled resources dry and optimism dryer. Suddenly, nonprofits couldn’t depend on their annual events or their pledged donations to keep them running. Limitations were everywhere, donors had less to give, and the notion of an expected, normal year was gone.
But let’s take it back a step. The relationship between apparel decorators and nonprofits has been historically consistent: nonprofits seek out custom apparel and products whenever they have an annual event coming up, and decorators deliver — knowing it’ll be a reliable sale for years to come.
That consistency looks a whole lot different in 2021. And that means that decorators have two options.
Option 1 is to wait idly by for nonprofits to decide on the logistics of their events: if they’re on pause, if they look different, how they’ll look different — the works. Of course, when they come to you with a custom merch need, you’ll be ready to act. But when that will be is anyone’s guess.
Option 2 is to take matters into your own hands. To approach old customers and new prospects in the nonprofit sector and show them what you’re capable of. Show them how custom merchandise and online selling have brought new life into small businesses and one-off fundraisers alike, and how, with your capabilities, they can reap the same results.
If you’re sick of waiting for things to happen, if you’re sick of looking out the window, waiting for sales to knock on the door, then this is the strategy for you. It takes everything we learned from the Here for Good movement — and all of your hard-earned insight from the past tumultuous year — and drives it right into the nonprofit space.
So you can leverage the power of all that nonprofits have to offer — and watch your sales soar. We break down how to do it all here, so keep reading.
Selling to Nonprofits: The Basics
We know that in normal times, nonprofits are looking at custom merch to accomplish two things: 1) offset the costs of their planned event and 2) fuel brand awareness. From a simple economic standpoint, without the regular planning of events, the need — and urgency — for branded merch subsides dramatically.
Unless you reinstate it.
Nonprofits today will be hyper-focused on individual contributions and government or institutional grants, not on the very real fundraising power of custom merchandise. So switching up their perspective and expanding their horizons falls on you. How can they earn big, increase their reach, and do it without an event keeping things grounded?
We’ve seen the solution before, over and over again. Small businesses looking to re-engage their customers and build a new revenue stream. Determined employers looking to keep their staff secure amid the chaos. Brands of all sizes looking to stay active, noticeable, and relevant to their distracted audience. The common denominator? Online stores.
And not just online stores, but online fundraising stores.
When Here for Good started, local businesses across the country (and beyond) were stymied by its immediate results. So take that momentum and run with it, tweaking here and there to make it more sense for the nonprofits within your reach.
You’re already familiar with the ultra-simple concept:
- Reach Out to prospective customers, i.e. nonprofits, with a virtual proposal showing what you can do. (An Online Pitch Store works great here.) Include samples of apparel and promo products — with the prospect’s brand name/logo integrated — so they can visualize exactly what you’re offering.
- Design the Goods with your now-customer, ensuring the products align with their goals, branding, and audience. If they’re looking to create traction on social media, items that grab attention and fuel viral moments would work better than understated, elegant options — but if they’re looking to appeal to their high-spending donors, then not so much.
- Create the Store with the same prowess and care you gave to the products, customizing the design (including its messaging, graphics, and product display) to expertly align with what the non-profit’s aiming for. Is it an evergreen fundraising store their audience can click onto at any moment, with an unchanging range of branded apparel on offer? Is it a week-long fundraising ‘event’ to replace an annual gala, with high-value, special custom products displayed? Once the store is ready, arrange the products intentionally — you’re telling a visual story, so every decision matters.
- Market, Market, & Market. Your customer needs to be doing everything they can to get the word out and educating them about how crucial this step is falls on you. It’s your job to explain that the more they post, the more people they’ll reach and the more traffic their store will get, and it’s your job to give them tactic options for heightened results. Emails to their donor list? Graphics on social media? Custom signs placed around town? You’re the expert here — so shed light on what’s possible, help them sell more, and watch as the results roll in.
With Here for Good, we saw different decorators arrange different deals with local businesses about how the sale would be distributed. While most shops offered no start-up cost for the online selling arrangement, there was some variation with how much of each sale would go back to the decorator — and that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself before you make the pitch.
Maybe it’s $5 from every item sold. Maybe it’s 10%, or 20%, or a percentage of the total monthly earnings. Remember: every project will be different — with unique variables and unique customers — so do what makes the most sense. (And if you’d like some references for inspiration, check out our profiles of this strategy working here, here, and here.)
Selling to Nonprofits: The Value
So you’re understanding the what behind this selling strategy, but you’re not as clear on the how. As in, how can you articulate the value of what you’re offering to your prospective nonprofit customers — without scaring them away, coming off as too cavalier, or overwhelming them with information?
The key is to couple substance with simplicity. To provide enough insight that they understand exactly what you’re offering — in terms of real, practical value — but not too much that it takes them longer than a minute or two to be impressed.
Okay, but… how do you achieve that perfect balance in practice? You develop the right pitch. Here are our favorite pieces to the nonprofit custom merch pitch puzzle:
- Immediate Action: This fundraising strategy is something your prospect can do now — without waiting for limits on gathering or levels of public comfort to change. It empowers them with a new way to raise money, a new way to engage their audience, and a new way to produce sustained brand exposure for months (and years) to come. After more than a year of feeling helpless, this is a game-plan that will put the reins back in their hands. Emphasize that — and watch as the earning potential sinks in.
- Limitless Designs: And that empowerment doesn’t end with the selling concept — it continues all the way through to the design. From pinpointing which custom apparel and/or promo products they’d like to include to having total control over how they’re customized and picking the graphics, messaging, and media showcased on the Online Store, every aspect of this fundraising endeavor is up to them. That means there’s ample opportunity to make it as distinct, wow-worthy, and high-impact as they’d like.
- Effortless Marketing: Investing in custom merchandise is like investing in the stock market. It takes some understanding at first, but once you do it, you can sit back and relax as your investment works for you. The true power of this fundraising strategy isn’t just the number of sales it can accrue; it’s also how the decorated products, once distributed, spread brand awareness and messaging without any effort. When you explain the continual effects that custom merch can have on their marketing, they’ll realize that the opportunity — proven by its low cost per impression — is too great to ignore.
- Hands-Off Selling: No matter how impressive the pitch presentation is, prospects will always be thinking of one factor. How much effort the process requires of them. So now’s the time to make it clear that you’re offering an end-to-end fulfillment service that takes the responsibility off their shoulders, leaving them with impeccable results — and nothing else. From designing the products to running the Online Fundraising Store to production and distribution, you have every step under control. And that’s something every prospect likes to hear.
- Expanded Reach: While there are benefits to in-person fundraising events, there are also limitations — like the physical/geographic limitations put on who can attend (and show support). Whether it’s new regulations on how many people can gather or the physical distance that prevents many from stopping by, Online Fundraising Stores bring something to the table that their in-person counterparts never could. What is it? Limitless accessibility. With your help, your prospect can reach more than ever before, moving past city (and even state) lines to garner support. That power is immense — so make sure your prospect knows it.
- Seamless Flexibility: Plans, environments, and goals change — and unlike the rigidness of a physical fundraising event, a virtual fundraising event (ahem, Online Fundraising Stores) can change right along with them. Maybe what starts as a week-long run turns into a month-long fundraiser, because the support is too overwhelming to ignore. Maybe the community is searching for additional product styles, so the in-store offerings are updated to meet those requests in real-time. Emphasize to your prospects that they have the power of flexibility on their side because that’s the truth: it’s their fundraiser, their way.
Those are a few of our favorite value call-outs — but if you’re looking to wow your nonprofit prospects, even more, make sure you’re paying attention to the delivery of your pitch too. As in, don’t clutter their inboxes with lazily thrown-together example files or dense paragraphs of text, and don’t annoy their team with surprise calls that go on and on and on.
Our preferred method? Virtual Pitch Stores. Because that way they can see for themselves the true, practical value that Online Fundraising Stores bring to the table. (We break them down in more depth here.)
Selling to Nonprofits: The Wrap Up
At a time when so much is still uncertain, the Online Fundraising Store selling strategy enables you to give nonprofits a dose of stability. Of control. Instead of waiting for their typical events to return, their typical donations to show up, and their desperate grant applications to be answered, they’re taking action.
They’re thinking outside of the box, and they’re erupting a whole new stream of revenue while they do it.
That’s the power of what you’re offering. That’s the practical value of it. And it’s not just a theoretical — you can point to the months of Here For Good success, from a diverse range of businesses and organizations, to prove that it’s plausible.
To prove that it’s inevitable.
This strategy gives you a way to show the nonprofits near you that there is something they can do today. That there is a way for them to lean into the power of e-commerce and digital marketing to earn big, and that there is a way for them to engage their audience without the need for traditional events.
And when you win them over, you won’t just be transforming their fundraising potential. You’ll be earning yourself an order today, sure, but you’ll also be earning yourself a customer. A customer who, when in-person events return with a vengeance, will have new decorated apparel needs to fill.
A customer who will remember your innovative capabilities and come back to them, over and over again. A customer who might take your Online Fundraising idea and spread the news of it to their nonprofit peers, sending you more business along the way.
Bringing this revolutionary concept to them is the only way to open that door in a meaningful way. Because they might not know that there’s something they can do for their fundraising health today — but you do.
Nonprofits need you now more than ever. And you have what it takes to help. So what are you waiting for?
And if you’re reading this and not already equipped with the decorated apparel industry’s leading e-commerce technology, then it’s time you got to know our Online Stores setup. Take a tour, digest the (many, many) standout features, and reach out to us to learn more about what it can do for you. Because the truth is, it’s a whole lot.
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