For many groups and campaigns, fundraising is slow this early in the year. It's not necessarily a reason for concern, it's a fact of life in the early days of a new election cycle. But for those struggling to raise money, consider another way to generate donations and keep your supporters actively giving: ecommerce merchandising.
It's often overlooked for a variety of reasons — approvals, fulfillment, logistics, fear of dealing with angry donors/customers, or start-up costs.
But what separates ecommerce from traditional fundraising is the fact you're selling an actual product, not a promise. Now, giving donors an actual product in exchange for their money cuts into a campaign's fundraising margin. In fact, critics point out that ecommerce fundraising takes dollars out of voter contact efforts. In response, I would argue it's another way of getting your logo or candidate's name in front of potential supporters while still taking in fundraising dollars.
So what sells? Selling a product is all about timing and creativity. Pay attention because this is probably the most important advice I can give you: Timing is everything.
We live in the Amazon era with a 24/7 news cycle. The best and only way to strike while the iron’s hot is by designing and manufacturing a product before it’s relevant. This allows you to quickly customize it to the moment so you can maximize your sales when the product or issue is relevant — and have it delivered to a donor within a week.
For example, when Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) used the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted” in his rebuke of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during Jeff Sessions’ 2017 confirmation hearing, artist Matt Rudinski of Brooklyn, NY mocked up a T-shirt bearing those words and uploaded it to TeeSpring. By the next morning, he had sold over $1,500 worth without any advertising/promotion. Less than a month later, he had sold over $250,000 worth of shirts.
The best selling products are often ones that are creative and functional. Cups or tumblers, mugs, shirts, bumper stickers, and hats all sell well. But the trick is finding a unique way to add your campaign’s branding or slogans to make that product stand out from all the rest.
How to sell it? When standard soft and hard asks produce diminishing returns, it’s time to throw a product into the mix. Products give donors a tangible reminder of your organization and also mix the fundraising messages up a bit.
You can even take it one step further by offering a “freemium," a fundraising ask with a minimum contribution amount for a product in return. For example, “For every donation of $25 or more, we’ll send you a free bumper sticker!”
The majority of your donors already shop online. Give them a unique or practical product with your campaign logo and it will sell. If you’re worried about the logistical hurdles, hire a consultant. If done correctly, your merchandise will allow your supporters to pay you to promote your campaign.
Bentley Hensel is the president and founder of 1776 Consulting, a political eCommerce & social media agency.