White t-shirt on hangar

T-Shirt Fundraising: What Your Nonprofit Needs to Know

Fundraising is at the heart of any nonprofit’s strategy—not because it’s the most important thing that nonprofits do, but because it enables nonprofits to do the crucial work for their mission through impactful programming.

When your nonprofit designs its fundraising strategy, you initially come up with financial goals that relate directly to the philanthropic objectives for the year. Then, you come up with the fundraising ideas and campaigns that will best help you reach those fundraising goals.

One such fundraising idea that’s proven to be wildly successful for all types of causes is selling t-shirts.

Selling branded merchandise is a classic fundraising idea that nonprofits frequently use to maximize other fundraising opportunities or to raise funds as an independent campaign. Either way, it’s important to recognize how you can leverage these campaigns to the best of your abilities.

That’s why we’ve compiled this guide— to help nonprofit professionals like yourself to maximize your next t-shirt fundraising campaign and get as much from it as possible. Here’s what we recommend:

  1. Choose How You’ll Sell & Distribute T-Shirts
  2. Consider What to Look for in a T-Shirt Fundraising Platform
  3. Design Your T-Shirt with More Than Your Logo
  4. Consider How the Fundraiser Fits into Your Strategy
  5. Say Thank You After The Fundraiser Ends

These types of campaigns have the power to connect you with more supporters and provide donors with something in return for their generous contributions. Let’s dive into these considerations so that you can get started planning your next t-shirt fundraiser.

Choose How You’ll Sell & Distribute Your T-Shirts

When you sell merchandise as a part of your fundraiser, you’ll need to determine how you want to sell and distribute your shirts to your supporters. Depending on your needs, there are two options for you to consider:

  • Online. When your supporters order your t-shirts directly online as part of an independent fundraiser, they’ll likely expect to receive the t-shirt in the mail. This means it will need to be shipped either from your organization or from the manufacturer.
  • In-person. Often, organizations like to include a t-shirt fundraiser as a part of an event, like 5K races. In this case, you might decide to include a t-shirt as a part of the event registration package, where the event attendees will either receive the shirt in the mail or pick it up at the event. Or, you might sell t-shirts at the event itself, requiring you to do a bulk order beforehand.

We recommend choosing the online option. When you sell directly online, you won’t have the upfront expenses associated with bulk ordering, creating a risk-free fundraising campaign. Set up an online store with a platform that offers direct shipping. This enables your supporters to order online, pay immediately, and receive their merchandise quickly with minimal effort from your team. You’ll simply need to promote the opportunity among supporters.

The best t-shirt fundraising platforms will allow you to sell directly through their site and ship the shirts directly to your supporters for you. They’ll also provide a bulk ordering option so that you can purchase some shirts ahead of time for events and in-person opportunities.

Consider What to Look for in a T-Shirt Fundraising Platform

If you’re selling your shirts online, then you’ll likely use a platform that specializes in t-shirt and apparel fundraising. But if you’re new to apparel fundraising, then it can be challenging to determine which platform is the best choice for your nonprofit to use.

To start, we recommend considering your own fundraising campaign and how you’re reaching out to your supporters. Then, determine what you’ll need in a platform to meet their needs. You should also consider the potential overhead costs associated with running the campaign because the purchase of a new t-shirt fundraising platform would fall under that category.

All fundraising campaigns have overhead expenses that come from the upfront costs associated with hosting and operating the fundraiser. However, you should try to cut back on these overhead costs where possible (and where it won’t hurt the quality of the fundraiser). Ideally, look for a t-shirt fundraising platform with no upfront costs.

To get the most out of your t-shirt fundraiser, look for the following qualities in your merchandise provider:

  • No inventory costs
  • No platform fees
  • No print minimums
  • Low payment processing fees
  • Discounted processing fees for registered 501(c)(3) organizations

All of these features will help you obtain the most revenue possible from your next t-shirt fundraising campaign.

Be sure to also look for a platform that offers robust design options, multiple types of merchandise, and the ability to create your own online store. Between these features and the above financial benefits, you’ll be set to create the best possible campaign for your organization.

Design Your T-Shirt with More Than Your Logo

When you’re designing your t-shirts for the fundraiser, you’ll see a lot of advice telling you to add your logo to your shirt so it’s branded to your organization. This is perfectly good advice! But you should take it a step further and add more than just your logo to your shirt.

T-shirts provide a canvas to inspire change and intrigue donors, encouraging them to get involved with your organization’s activities. They provide a platform for creativity and an opportunity to represent your entire mission. Use the space your t-shirts provide to showcase your nonprofit in new and innovative ways.

Leverage the latest t-shirt design trends to provide additional intrigue for your merchandise and inspire donors. For instance, some of these trends include:

  • Multicolored words. You don’t need a large portrait or anything to create an intriguing shirt. All you need is a catchy phrase and a color pallet to create an intriguing design. Try to keep the colors within the pallet of your organization’s brand.
  • Handwritten typography. Again, you can maintain simple text as the primary focus of your t-shirt. To add some visual interest, design this text to look like unique handwriting.
  • Illustrative figures. While the simplest t-shirt designs might feature a photo of a human figure as the focus of the design, you can add additional interest to your design by making them more illustrative. These figures range on a scale of realism to abstract, providing plenty of choice for your t-shirt design.
  • Animal portraits. Especially for organizations that work closely with animals, a portrait might be just the thing to engage and intrigue your supporters. Ask a local artist or a talented team member to draw the portrait and add a catchy caption to it for your shirt.

Your brand is more than just your organization’s logo. It’s the words you use, your colors, and the visual portrayal of your mission. Knowing some of the trends and the creative potential for your t-shirt can help you come up with some more visually appealing and unique t-shirt ideas that will engage and draw your audience.

Consider How the Fundraiser Fits into Your Strategy

As you plan your t-shirt fundraiser, you should be sure you understand exactly how this particular fundraiser fits into your larger strategy.

At the start of the year, you put together a budget and designed a fundraising strategy to help guide you toward your goals. What purpose does your t-shirt fundraiser play in this strategy? It might, for instance, play one of the following roles:

  • Support a campaign for a new program
  • Diversify your event revenue streams
  • Contribute to your nonprofit’s annual fund
  • Provide funds for a specific aspect of your current programming

Understanding how your fundraiser fits into your strategy isn’t just for the good of your nonprofit. It’s also helpful for guiding your communications with your supporters. Your supporters are driven by the impact they can have on your organization’s mission. Explaining how your t-shirt will support the mission is more likely to capture their attention compared to just stating that it will help your nonprofit as a whole.

Additionally, when your t-shirt fundraiser supports a specific program or plays a key role in a particular event, you can incorporate that idea into your t-shirt design. T-shirts that commemorate the fun times a supporter had at your event can make a tempting souvenir, so make the most of it with a specific event-relevant style.

Say Thank You After The Fundraiser Ends

After your t-shirt fundraiser ends, the work isn’t quite over yet. Don’t forget to say thank you to all of your supporters who purchased a shirt. This promotes stewardship of your existing supporters, encouraging them to return time after time to continue supporting your nonprofit. While many organizations are incredibly focused on acquiring new supporters, the real trick to growth and a sustainable strategy is retention.

The first step to retention is appreciation. Make sure your supporters know what their support means to your organization and for your mission. After you’ve sent an immediate thank-you and purchase confirmation, you might decide to leverage appreciation strategies such as:

  • Writing heartfelt thank you notes to your supporters who participated in the campaign
  • Calling supporters to say thank you and inform them of other upcoming engagement opportunities
  • Provide a thank-you note or a small gift in the package with the t-shirt you sell (like a matching face mask)
  • Invite supporters to post a picture in their new t-shirt on social media platforms, then like and comment on the post from your organization’s account

Growing up, you always learned to say “please” and “thank you,” so you know that showing appreciation is polite. But it’s also a key strategy to help nonprofits retain their supporters and engage them for the long-run.

In Conlcusion

T-shirt fundraising is a classic fundraising idea that’s incredibly helpful as an independent campaign or as an add-on for other fundraising strategies. When you carefully plan and execute your t-shirt fundraising strategy, your campaign will maximize revenue, spread the word about your cause, and help secure long-term support. Happy fundraising!

Author: Kevin Penney

Kevin Penney of Bonfire

Kevin Penney has been working in digital media for over ten years. He’s the CMO and co-founder of Bonfire, an online platform that’s reinventing the way people create, sell and purchase custom apparel. He enjoys strategizing, working closely with his team, and hockey, exactly in that order.

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