Sorting laundry last weekend, I had barely enough whites to constitute a load. I went scrounging around the house, searching for a errant sock or other white item to add to the pile. “Don’t I have any white t-shirts to wash?!”, I puzzled. Working here at BlueCotton, a purveyor of fine custom t-shirts, you can imagine I have quite a few t-shirts in my wardrobe.
After much opening and shutting of drawers, much shifting of stacks, unfolding and refolding, the result was clear. I counted exactly eight white t-shirts in my collection- all free giveaway t-shirts from various charity walks and events. I keep these shirts because they are from a cause close to my heart, but I rarely wear them.
What is the purpose of the charity t-shirt? Why do they represent the bottom of my drawer even though I support and identify with the cause? How can we improve the charity event t-shirts’ standing? Can they be top-drawer material? If so, how do we get them there?
The purpose of the charity tee is two-fold:
1. Charity t-shirts are given as an incentive to participants and included in the price of the registration fee.
2. The free t-shirt serves as a promotional tool both for the event and for the sponsors. This promotion lasts long after the event has taken place – every time the shirt is worn. Ideally, the participants continue wearing the t-shirt and serve as a walking advertisement for both the event and the businesses who paid to host it.
Are the charity t-shirts living up to their mission? I rarely see people wearing charity event t-shirts in public. I may have seen one or two folks at the gym wearing a 5K tee. Why is this? I will give you my personal perspective and solutions to the “bottom of the drawer” dilemma.
Three Charity T-shirt Challenges to Rethink:
1. It’s white. It gets dirty in a flash. It stains easily. It ends up a dust rag. I understand why charity t-shirts are commonly white. White t-shirts are cheaper than color shirts, and I respect the charities’ main objective here – to retain the most proceeds possible. Every penny counts. But these pennies become a lost outreach opportunity if the shirt ends up spending it’s short life as a shop cloth.
2. It’s dated. Do I want to be wearing a 2011 t-shirt in 2014? Three years old is not quite vintage enough to be hip. Plenty of people still wear a shirt that is three years old (you know you do), but we’d all prefer not to broadcast the expiration date.
3. It’s busy. It is a time-honored tradition of the charity t-shirt to thank donors by printing sponsor logos on the back of the shirt, and I recognize bucking this tradition may be a hard adjustment to make. I appreciate that each of these businesses cared enough about the event to support this charity with a donation, and I’d like to be able to thank them in person by patronizing their establishment, but I don’t see an address or phone number. I don’t see a website address. How can I locate this kind-hearted business who supports my favorite charity? How will they know I’m reaching out to them solely because they sponsored the event? How will they know they’re getting my business because they cared enough to donate to my favorite cause? They won’t.
Three Easy Steps to Improve Your Charity T-shirt’s Wearability (and Value to your Sponsors)
1. Step up from the white t-shirt. Choose a color t-shirt that compliments your charity event logo. To save money on the upgrade, you can reduce the ink colors to a single color print on the front and back. Bright colors like safety green and safety orange are currently on trend, and look fabulous with a simple black print. You can choose a less expensive, lightweight, 50/50 cotton/polyester blend like the Gildan 8000, which features moisture-wicking performance properties to boot. These small changes will bring you around to a similarly-priced, cost-effective t-shirt. You can also choose a custom dry-fit performance t-shirt.
2. Refine your design. Model your charity shirt after the t-shirts you see in sports and retail shops. Create a shirt that people will want to wear when they aren’t running. That’s the idea, right? You want to be somebody’s favorite new shirt! Clean it up and lose the unnecessary details. Lose the day/month/year clutter and opt for a “8th annual” or “Established 1997″ instead. Create a design that clearly states the event title while maintaining a “full-retail-price” air. Let us help! We’re a creative bunch around here…feel free to give us a call if you need some ideas for a sweet new design.
3. Clean up the back. Reserve the back of the shirt for a single title sponsor, or reduce the total number of sponsor logos to 2 or 3. Reducing the number of sponsors on the shirt gives the title sponsor more exclusive exposure and increases the value both of their t-shirt real estate and the aesthetics of your t-shirt. Offer sponsors space in your printed materials to feature a coupon instead. Offering a banner ad on your event website for an extended period both before and after the event may also be a more attractive incentive than the t-shirt ad. Sponsorship packages may include a coupon or website link that allow your sponsors to track their Return on Investment – how their sponsorship dollars translate into customers and demonstrate the purchasing power of your participants in a clear way. These metrics can encourage your donors to become repeat sponsors year after year.
Something You May Not Have Considered:
Runners/walkers are getting more high tech and more fashionable by the minute. People like to look good while they’re getting fit. Consider offering items FOR SALE at the event. Embroidered items are a great opportunity to increasing your charity’s profits the day of the event. A simple embroidered logo can be embellished on a hat, jacket, and looks great on a dri-fit golf polo. These items become part of the participant’s wardrobe and will be worn for years. Don’t leave out the participant’s families!
Embroidered items also work well as donor and sponsor thank-you gifts and part of sponsorship packages. Golf towels, spa and beach towels are all items that don’t require you to collect sizing information and make perfect sponsor incentives.
Do you your charity event t-shirts see the light of day? What do you think makes a great freebie tee? Tell us about your charity and what you love about their tees in the comments below.