Fundraising Event T-shirts – Can We All Agree to Just Stop?

Fundraising Event T-shirts – Can We All Agree to Just Stop?

Fundraising Event T-shirts – Can We All Agree to Just Stop?

As we move into autumn, many nonprofit organizations are wrapping up their active/outside fundraising events. In many parts of the country, local parks are jammed with charities rallying their participants before winter weather hits. Many of these events will provide their participants with t-shirts.

T-shirts are a staple of fundraising events for a variety of reasons. Participants that walk in a lot of event can expect t-shirts. If everyone is wearing a branded t-shirt, it creates a great visual for photos and video. If individuals wear their t-shirts after the event, it helps to create better brand/cause awareness.

With that said, t-shirts are awful. They are one of the most time-consuming aspects of events for nonprofit staff. Participants complain about the design, quality, and size – even when they’re being given the t-shirts for free. T-shirt procurement and logistics can absorb an incredible amount of staff and volunteer resources. Individuals are less inclined to keep their t-shirts and wear them after an event. And as the price of cotton fluctuates, t-shirts are more expensive.

While the negatives outweigh the positives, organizations continue to use t-shirts as an incentive for participation. Many nonprofits and event staff don’t have the opportunity to try something new. T-shirts are known therefore t-shirts are safe. If you’re thinking of venturing away from t-shirts here are five alternatives:

Tote bags

As cities, counties, and states increase bans on plastic bags, tote bags are increasingly valuable. Tote bags help achieve what t-shirts used to do. Some participants will use them often and are reminded of your organization and cause. Tote bags are a great alternative for a registration gift and aren’t reliant on sizes.

Something related to your organization’s work

A t-shirt is generic which is why it was a safe option. Depending on your organization’s mission you can tailor an incentive or registration gift to match the work that you are doing. Doing this allows you to align your gift with your organization’s goals and messaging.

Gift Card

If you event would like to continue providing incentive gifts to top performing participants, gift cards are a good alternative. Some fundraising events that operate a retail store on-site give top performers a coupon or gift card to the retail area so that they can pick out an item that they will use.

Opportunity Drawing

Create an opportunity drawing for your event by purchasing or procuring an in-kind donation of an item that your participants might like. iPads are particularly popular of late, but any sort of technology item will appeal to the largest group of your participants.


If you want to keep things simple, eliminate incentive or registration gifts all together. Not only will this help your ROI, but it will save staff and volunteer time. Be honest with your participants and explain why the decision was made.

We hope these ideas inspire you to think creatively about alternatives to t-shirts. Similarly, we hope these links inspire your work and provide some knowledge and enjoyment.

  1. On the subject of donor incentives, Anna Dilernia from the Knight Foundation provides interesting data and analysis on fundraising strategies they have used.
  2. The Koret Foundation is being sued by the founders widow about the direction of the foundation. Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross of SFGate convey the details for a acrimonious legal battle.
  3. Courtney Greenwalk from M+R shares tips on developing relationships with members of the press. The cat gifs are an added bonus!
  4. Why do donors opt out? Sarah Lange from NPQ discusses what may cause her to stop donating to her alma mater.
  5. Millennials are a topic that many nonprofits discuss – Fusion produced a large millennial survey and results.
1 Comment
  • Steven says:

    I agree… mostly. Organizations shouldn’t be spending their money on shirts. You get a bunch left over, and not all the right sizes. After the event, people rarely wear the t-shirt, especially if the design is cheesy and it’s dated with a year. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on t-shirts altogether. First, make a cool design that is universally appealing and not dated to a specific event.After the event, it just becomes a cool t-shirt to keep wearing. Second, don’t pay for shirts – sell them. There are a few sites that help you fundraise with t-shirts online, and I think a lot of organizations should consider this model. Here’s my plug – we just launched one called TeeDojo at You design a shirt and create a campaign page. You set how much you want to sell it for. People order shirts online. We print & ship and send you the profits. There’s no out of pocket costs for organizations, and no work to do. So you do less work, spend no money, and actually make money. That’s how t-shirt fundraisers should work.

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