How Merchandising Can Help Spread Your Mission + Messaging

More and more, shelters and rescues are creating merchandise – selling items in freshly minted retail areas in shelters, selling online or as part of a fundraiser, using t-shirts or pins to commemorate a special event, and more! But have you ever stopped to think about how, even beyond raising funds, merchandise can play a strategic role in marketing your organization’s cause and mission?

Merch is an important and growing way to attract new followers, spread a message, and engage existing supporters

Selling t-shirts, stickers, pins, and more promotes brand awareness – basically, it’s free advertising! You can increase your organization’s name recognition and reach new community members, maybe even those who hadn’t considered interaction with your organization, with well-designed merch! And by creatively using your organization’s name, mission, taglines, and vision, you are not only creating an attractive product, but you’re also creating a message for people to get behind. And that matters because a supporter who’s wearing your mission or message might be more likely to get involved with your events, programs, and other efforts!


Where to Start?

It’s easier than ever to set up a store on your website using Shopify or WooCommerce plugins, for example. And for shelters under a municipality, sites like Bonfire or Threadless, can provide an external platform for creating tees, sweatshirts, and tanks.

Sometimes the idea of branded merchandise conjures images of cheesy slogans or strategically logo-laden giveaways. But it doesn’t have to be that way thanks to countless tools and platforms now available to help ensure good design is at your fingertips. (Pro tip! Search our Find an Artist map and connect with a graphic designer who can help create some magic pro-bono!)

Some resources include packaged graphics + font sets from sites like Creative Market, using platforms with built-in design help like Bonfire, or connecting with local freelancers who might want to donate their services (or check out sites like Fiverr). Even Canva now offers the ability to design good-looking t-shirts easily!

The biggest no-no’s of merchandise designs are drifting from your brand’s values or messaging or using images, wording, or slogans that are copyrighted or frequently used by other brands. Stay true to you, stay away from Google image searches, and you’ll find that your followers will jump on board a more authentic design and message.



How to make merchandising affordable or attainable?

Listen, we’re with you. As a very small nonprofit, we can’t afford to guess at what people will wear or print bulk orders that may mean we end up with backstock. But the other great thing about the rise in platforms dedicated to merchandise is that a number of print & fulfill sites are making it possible for anyone, no matter the budget, to create an online shop! We currently use Printful for our website and Bonfire for fundraising but have also heard good feedback about SPOD, Spreadshirt, Gooten, and even Merch by Amazon. It’s all about finding the right fit for your group.

The other thing to consider that that merchandise isn’t all t-shirts and wearable swag. We’ve had an incredible amount of success with selling and creating stickers to help promote our mission and programs – and if the sticker-laden laptops & water bottles scattered around our local coffee shop are any indication, the market for stickers is only increasing! We love the quality and price point of the stickers we get from Sticker Mule and the variety – from die-cut to circular to window stickers – is truly magical! If you have to start somewhere, stickers tend to provide a low-risk investment that easily lend themselves to sharing your name, mission or message.

How are you using merchandise to help market your organization’s brand or specific events/programs? Drop us a line in the comments!  

Posted in
Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin is passionate about working with shelters and rescues to reimagine the way they tell their stories and connect with new audiences. She has served in the animal welfare field since 2008 and early on had the honor of working closely with diverse organizations across the U.S. to maximize resources, redesign policies, and find life-changing marketing solutions. In 2015, she got her MPA with a concentration in nonprofit management and in 2021, she began teaching marketing + communications for the University of Florida Master of Veterinary Science, Concentration in Shelter Medicine program. She lives in NY with a petite brindle pit bull named Sally who owns her heart.