There is nothing really new about having a T-shirt as part of a fundraising campaign, but today, the simple T-shirt is being reborn. It may become the strategic edge to your campaign — and raise a lot of money.
In fact, more than T-shirts can generate much-needed profits through online stores. An online store cannot only raise funds, it can also help build your brand. Merchandise may engage donors in a way never thought possible.
I love my state bird T-shirt, but I feel even better about the shirt knowing it came because I supported Iowa Public Radio. I contributed enough to get the shirt for “free” (see blog that Americans are bad at math).
If you do decide to go into the merchandise business for nonprofit fundraising, here are few thoughts before you launch:
- Retail. This is retail, not a “fun” giveaway.
- Logistics. Logistics are important: shipping, returns, wrong sizes.
- Spoilage. Don’t invest or print a bunch of merchandise. Print in batches when you have enough orders. Your costs per piece will rise a bit, but your overall investment will drop with no spoilage.
- Logo bloat. No one wants to pay top dollar for a logo-riddled shirt.
- Make it cool. Make the shirt or merchandise valuable by having it designed. Have an artist or designer develop your shirt. “Your logo here” is not what I want to buy.
- Transparent. Tell people how much will be donated to the cause. Maybe they will buy two or three items to get to a giving level.
- Goals. Tell buyers/donors what each shirt does for your organization. For example, each shirt you buy provides 100 meals to starving children.
Selling merchandise diversifies donor contribution options, but just like retail, people will want new merchandise each year. You may find some repeating items that are associated with events or holidays, but keep pushing new. Only bring back popular items to sell the next year.
There are some legal concerns around the income-generating activity that is not directly related to your mission. Be sure to check with your accountant and legal resources to make sure you do not jeopardize your tax-exempt status and that you file the proper IRS forms. Otherwise, time to turn over the open sign on your e-commerce store.