Is Your Online Store for Your Donors or Fundraisers? Be Careful How You Answer

Many nonprofit organizations build online stores for profit-making purposes. And this is when the voices in my head say, “Danger Will Robinson, danger!” Don’t get me wrong. Online stores can be a great solution; we build them for nonprofits and corporate clients every day. But if you are a nonprofit organization considering selling “stuff” online, ASK yourself: Is your store being developed for donors or volunteer fundraisers?

If your store is intended for your donors, then it’s primarily a gift store. If intended for your volunteers, then it’s a materials and supply store. It’s impossible to treat these groups and stores the same way.

Donor Store  = Gift Store
A gift store is for a person who has an attachment to your mission, likely because he or she has suffered from whatever it is you are fighting. Or, maybe he or she needs a gift to reward or thank someone. It’s like the museum gift shop — it’s designed to generate some revenue for the organization though, frankly, it rarely does that in any significant way.

Volunteer Store = Fundraising Supply Store
A volunteer fundraiser store is where your volunteers go to get supplies that will help them raise money, and awareness, for your cause. As such, these materials need to support fundraising activities and events; they need to be relevant, and they need to be as inexpensive as possible. This is more like a middle school supply closet than a museum gift store.

A fundraising store gives you the opportunity to make a dime or two for the mission while supplying your fundraisers with goodies to fundraise. Your volunteers — the ones who are working tirelessly for your cause, the ones who are organizing others and spending hours on end promoting your event, need items to be successful. And, they will have to, and want to, purchase items with their own money. If your store is more expensive than what they can buy locally, they will buy locally. Or, worse, they will make supplies…using your logo in twisted and wicked ways. Stop the madness and just give them an avenue to get the perfectly branded stadium cup, event wristband, and signage.

If you, or your CFO, are set on making this an income stream, the pittance of profit that will come back to the organization will kill sales and kill your volunteer fundraisers’ efforts to supplement your marketing budget with their own money.

If you build it (cheap), they will buy it and use it. The supply store is a place that the fundraising volunteer will stand up and say, “Hey, I’d love to finance this portion of your marketing budget by buying this stuff myself.” And, “I’m appreciative that you’re making it available at a low price. I’ll be sure to use this product at my bake sales and car washes and BBQ’s!”

How many impressions will your volunteer fundraiser create in your community through the use of properly branded supplies? A lot. And to the demographic most likely to get involved — the people like themselves.

If you are having the urge to build a profit-generating, gang buster of a store with extravagantly priced gifts that you are certain TONS of donors and volunteers will buy creating a magnificent income stream for your organization, call me. I will be annoying and realistic and give you some statistics. I work at the being realistic part; annoying comes naturally. I will talk you out of something that will cause you misery for years and into something that will actually help your organization achieve its mission. Contact me directly at

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