The holiday shopping season is upon us. In the frenzy of exciting discounts and hot new product trends, it can be a challenge for nonprofits with online shops to compete with big brands and e-commerce giants that have significantly larger marketing and advertising budgets. Yet, it is in the best interest of nonprofits with online shops to get involved in the holiday shopping season.

Online shopping saw a boost during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2021 holiday season is no different with about 94 percent of consumers planning to shop online for gifts. Sure, many gift-buyers will continue to turn to Amazon, Walmart, and Target, but increasingly consumers are being more mindful with purchases. This holiday season, one-quarter of consumers plan to shop specifically at a local or small business. 

Nonprofits with online shops can tap into these trends on social media to reach mindful shoppers and raise revenue in support of their mission.

If your nonprofit does not have a shop yet and you are looking to get started fairly quickly, you can use a tool like Shopify for Nonprofits, which is an online store you can customize to sell your branded merchandise or products. Shopify’s biggest selling points are that it is super mobile friendly and it easily plugs into the shop experience on Instagram and Facebook. If Shopify isn’t your cup of tea, there are many alternatives. Already have a shop? Here are some techniques to promote it on social media.

Bring your storefront to Instagram and Facebook

You can promote your shop directly on Instagram and Facebook by creating a storefront, if your business account is eligible. This is a smart option if your communities engage primarily on these platforms because you can launch it fast and you have built-in audiences of people who already have shown an affinity for your brand and your mission. When you’ve followed the steps to launch your Shop and it is live, make sure you add the Shop button to your bio. For example, Heal the Bay:

Screenshot of Heal the Bay on Instagram

Create a custom Collection for your communities

You know your audience best. So, spend some time curating your branded merchandise and products into custom lists like “Gifts Under $25” if you know your community members are cost-conscious, or “Sustainable Gift Ideas” if you know they prefer eco-friendly items. Collections appear at the top of your storefront on Instagram and Facebook and can help your followers discover your goods by themes that are relevant to them. For example, the “Reusable Goods Collection” from Heal the Bay:

Heal the Bay online store on Instagram

Tell your product’s story in the caption

Don’t miss the opportunity to directly tell your product’s story and how that ties into your organization’s mission in your caption on social media. Is the item locally sourced or sustainable? What kind of packaging is used in shipping or can it be picked up locally? Does the purchase support a Black-owned or LGBTQIA+-owned business? Is the product from a socially conscious or ethical brand? What percentage of proceeds directly support your mission? These are all aspects of your item that will set it apart to the mindful shopper, so make sure you mention them accurately and clearly in your caption.

Tag your products in Stories and Posts

Organically promote your Shop on social media by taking photos and videos of each item, ideally showing them in use in an authentic manner. Before you hit Share on a new post or Story, make the item shown clickable by adding a Product Tag that allows people to tap on a direct link within the image or video to view and purchase right from Instagram or Facebook. For example, Heal the Bay’s Gorgongosa Coffee:

Heal the Bay online store featuring organic coffee for sale.

Don’t promote everything in your Shop all at once on your channels. Sprinkle posts here and there on your channels over time and be selective about the products you promote during which seasons. In your Stories and Posts, curate products by theme similar to your Collections so people can discover new products you have based on things they already like.

Get creative when promoting your Shop during trendy days

Nonprofits, especially local and small organizations, can have a difficult time breaking through the noise during Black Friday and Cyber Monday or during holidays where gift-giving is a norm. Even Giving Tuesday, a day dedicated to supporting causes we love, can be a challenge for small and local groups who are outsized by national and global causes. It’s important to get creative, plan ahead and start your marketing early for big spending and giving days like these.

Cross-channel promotion and syncing up your email, website and other marketing channels with your social media calendars is recommended for Shop promotions. This way, if someone sees your product in an email newsletter and likes it, but does not buy right away, then sees it later on your social media feed, you are kindly nudging them by giving them multiple opportunities to shop. Don’t be afraid to get quirky by promoting your merchandise during a trendy day of the year like International Coffee Day or National Best Friends Day when you have a good hook.

Understand the time of day when your shoppers like to browse

When it comes to the best time of the day to post, listen to your followers first. Analyze your own historical content to gauge optimal times. Or, even do a poll or survey to gain first-hand knowledge of their preferences for shopping. Check out Instagram Insights to learn the times of the days when people who follow you are most active on the platform. And, remember, the best time to post is usually when it is most useful for your communities to take action. Keep in mind, some people are early birds and others are night owls, so catering to all types – those who like to plan ahead, and those who prefer to wait until the last minute – is a good idea.

Launch highly targeted ads with micro-budgets on an ongoing basis

Have a really tight budget for ads? Like $100 a month? Boosting your Instagram or Facebook post or running a highly targeted Instagram and Facebook Ad is a good choice for you. You can target your followers, specify the locations you can ship to, and even target based on interests in order to reach people who you know will love what you have for sale.

Run a variety of ads on an ongoing basis so you have a steady stream of traffic to your Shop and potential buyers aren’t seeing the same ad over and over again. For the holiday season, we suggest running your ads early because the ad inventory can start to get more competitive the closer it is to a big spending day.

Run a promotion to people who’ve already purchased

Some of your best customers are the ones who’ve already shopped with you or donated to your nonprofit. Give them some special attention by sharing an exclusive, limited-time discount code to your Shop. You can extend the reach of your discount to your followers with Facebook Offers.

Raise awareness for your Shop with a contest

A contest is a good way to get promotion for your Shop with your follower’s friends and family circles. Select a popular item from your Shop and do a giveaway to your followers by encouraging them to share your post with their networks in order to enter the contest. Review the platform’s Promotions Guidelines so your contest is all buttoned up. Talk about your Shop in all of your contest’s communications and celebrate the winner by asking them to take a pic or video with your product that you can share to your channels.

Build up excitement about new products

If you are adding a new product to your Shop page and not telling anyone about it, you are doing it wrong. Whether you are restocking existing inventory or releasing something new, come up with a plan to promote it on social media the day it launches and in the weeks and months that follow. Making ongoing product announcements not only keeps your prior shoppers engaged with what’s new or what’s back in stock, but it can help you build a narrative about your Shop’s ultimate purpose – to support your nonprofit’s mission. Instagram even has a feature for product launches, which rewards your most loyal followers by giving them the heads up on something new that’s coming so they can get first dibs. With limited stock, this can be a fun way to build up buzz before your item hits your online shop’s shelves.

About the Author

Talia Walsh is the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Heal the Bay, an environmental nonprofit that protects the coastal waters and watersheds of Greater Los Angeles, California. When she’s not managing the Heal the Bay Shop, you can find her camping by the beach, going on hikes with her family and dogs and refreshing her Instagram feed for new artwork and sustainable products made by the amazing creators out there.