Markets - Marketing for a Cause

Nonprofits, Charities Provide Wealth Of Sales Ops

Marketing for a CauseNonprofits and charities provide distributors with a wealth of sales opportunities for apparel.

When Jenny Rearick and Sloan Coleman of screen-printing shop Tiny Little Monster adopted a cat from Tenth Life Cat Rescue in St. Louis, they also asked about volunteer opportunities, eager to support its mission. The pair started out helping with graphic design services, then offered to print some T-shirts at a discount for the cat rescue. “We had just been printing shirts for ourselves and craft shows,” Coleman says. “It kind of rang a bell that nonprofits were actually a demographic.”

Since printing those first 75 shirts, Tiny Little Monster has become Tenth Life’s go-to decorator. The shop designs and prints T-shirts for the nonprofit’s annual Hissin’ Hustle 5K fundraising race, in addition to filling the odd special order, like a custom baseball shirt for the nonprofit’s director to wear when throwing out the first pitch at baseball games.

With fun runs, bike races and other fundraising events, each requiring their own spirit-building commemorative T-shirt, nonprofits have a lot of promotional needs, but limited time and budgets. The first step to winning such clients is to get onto their radar, either by becoming a volunteer or getting involved in other community events. “A lot of it is relationship-based and networking,” says Marshall Atkinson, chief operating officer of Visual Impressions. “If you just sit in your office like a spider waiting for the fly to land, you’re not going to do anything.”

Before approaching a nonprofit, do some research to familiarize yourself with the group’s mission and branding colors. Do whatever you can to make ordering easy. Most nonprofit workers are overworked and underpaid – or not paid at all. Anything you can do to take the burden off fundraising, and collecting and distributing apparel orders will impress these harried idealists. Consider offering a streamlined e-commerce solution and online designer to help nonprofits simplify fundraising. Allowing a nonprofit to create timed campaigns and promote them via the Web saves effort for both the client and decorator. Plus, many Web stores are set up so nonprofits don’t have to worry about outlaying their own funds or getting stuck with unwanted inventory if the campaign flops. “The way we’re set up, nonprofits take no upfront risk,” says Gabe Peters, vice president of Rector Communications (asi/305623), which runs fundraising site Ink the Cause. “We handle product, ship and distribute the proceeds back to the organization.”

For the most part, the T-shirt rules the nonprofit world, because it is both inexpensive and packs a powerful branding punch.