Nonprofit Ecommerce: Going from Beginner to Pro

By: Patrick Foster, Ecommerce advisor and entrepreneur

If you want to maximize revenue for your nonprofit, ecommerce can do wonders for your popularity and reach. Selling products and services online that your supporters want and need can help you strengthen relationships, build a sense of community around your cause, and generate significant income.

From branded swag to seasonal products, there are many viable ecommerce strategies for your nonprofit to explore. Charities can take advantage of seasonal selling trends by catering to holiday shoppers: offering charity Christmas cards, Fair Trade treats, or seasonal literature means that your store will feature as part of people’s holiday shopping plans. You could even try to ride the wave of publicity of shopping events like Black Friday: offering your own, more holistic alternative. Why not encourage people to shop with you for gifts and essentials, enabling people to do good when they buy from you?

World Vision is great example of a charity whose foray into ecommerce is still very much aligned with the charity’s overall vision and goals. World Vision’s catalogue ranges from sustainable handicrafts and houseware to donations of livestock, clean water, and educational resources for people living in poverty. This is a good way to make ecommerce about giving: allowing people to be altruistic as they shop is one of the key motivators behind consumers choosing to shop with you.

Think about how you can weave your larger donation strategy into your ecommerce goals as well. Setting up shop is easy, and you can even explore ecommerce opportunities from the comfort of your existing website, but it’s important to be smart about how budgets are spent. Just as you don’t want your ecommerce venture to detract from your overall message and cause, neither do you want to end up running a store that’s not bringing in any cash.

To that end, here are some expert tips to help take your nonprofit ecommerce store to the next level.

Choose profitable products to promote your cause

Finding profitable products to sell within the nonprofit sphere can be tricky, as many organizations sell the same types of ephemera – buttons, t-shirts, mugs, hats, etc. These products typically have a very low profit margins. When selecting items to sell, the most important thing to consider would be the featured message or customization design, as you will need to add value to your offerings.

Enlisting the help of an illustrator or graphic designer would be a wise investment. The more aesthetically pleasing your branded goods are, the more opportunity you will have to turn a website visitor into a customer/donor.

Offer charity bundles and discounts

Whether it’s back issues of your quarterly magazine or branded mugs and t-shirts, grouping your ecommerce items together under a special discount can boost your sales considerably. With charity, as there is altruism involved in the sales process, it is very easy for e-tailers to encourage customers to spend just a little more money per transaction. It’s for a good cause, after all.

If, for example, you can offer something like a buy-one-get-one-free deal on t-shirts in the run-up to a rally or event, it can be a very appealing offer to those who choose to attend. They could even be inspired to buy some for their families and friends too.

Set up shop on social media marketplaces

Animal Rescue Site is a charity with over 7 million fans on Facebook. With such a tremendous potential customer base, it only makes sense that Animal Rescue Site would set up a Facebook ecommerce site using Facebook's Marketplace platform.

When setting up shop on Facebook and other marketplaces, make sure you remember to link everything to your main site and all other channels. With internet traffic coming from many different sources, you can’t afford not to connect all of these points of contact for potential donors.

Don’t be afraid to make a product switch

In any business venture, some plans fail while others succeed. Don’t be disheartened if your chosen product line fails to generate big sales; there are many opportunities for ecommerce brands to switch and try something else.

To be as responsive as possible, explore drop shipping. Drop shipping is an arrangement where a third party ships and stores your goods on your behalf. Marketplaces like AliExpress can be especially beneficial to those low on initial capital to invest in ecommerce. You only pay for the products that you sell, making it easier for nonprofits to experiment and find the right product fit for their audiences.

Use Google Analytics to stay ‘on-message’

Make sure you gain insight into your new visitors by setting up Google Analytics. Analyzing customer behavior is an essential part of maximizing the returns on your ecommerce investment. Aside from tracking sales from your ecommerce store, you will also want to ensure that this extra traffic is drawing in the right kind of engagement with your cause.

Setting up an online store for your nonprofit can be a highly effective method of bringing in more donations to your organization. Depending on the ecommerce platform you opt for, you can easily integrate new products within your existing website and social media platforms. Plus, you can start off with a low initial investment -- drop shipping allows you to test the waters until you find products and customization designs that work for you. 


Patrick Foster is a blogger and ecommerce expert who has a passion for giving no-nonsense online retail advice to startups. He blogs at Ecommercetips.