While all Marketing teams desire to get the best bang for their buck, no one quite understands the significance of a positive ROI like Nonprofits. Nonprofit Marketing can sometimes feel like the impossible task – raise money, create awareness and excitement, engage constituents, and do it all responsibly and on a shoestring budget.

Because of this, we’ve had many conversations with nonprofits who think that spending money on “swag” or branded merchandise just isn’t worth it because they can’t justify the spend. Well, we think you can justify the spend. A study by the Advertising Specialty Institute found that 85 percent of promotional-product recipients remember the name of the advertiser that provided the item, and that consumers prefer promotional products over all other forms of advertising. This is even more true in the nonprofit sector because advertising isn’t about selling your goods or services. It’s about sharing your story – who you are, why you do what you do, and how you’re impacting society. How easy is it to communicate your story on a billboard or in a 15 second TV spot? You’re right… it’s not. But, if we step outside the box, how easy is it to tell your story through a t-shirt that ambassadors wear frequently or through decals that are seen on cars driven through the city every day? Nonprofits do more than just advertise, they connect people to a common mission. And so does branded merchandise.

Still think spending marketing dollars on branded merchandise isn’t worth it? Well here are a few examples of nonprofits that we work with that understand that utilizing branded merchandise is pivotal in engaging constituents:

  1. The Northwest Community Center in Dallas, Texas exists to aid refugees to start a new life, empower them to thrive in a new culture, and invite refugees to experience new life, and they are heavily dependent on volunteers to staff their community programs. Recently, they held an Open House to invite people interested in volunteering to come and learn more. Guess what they used as an enticement to get people there? T-shirts! And we’re not talking cheap, boxy, only-do-yardwork-in-them shirts. We’re talking about nice, soft, retail brand t-shirts that people LOVE. And guess what? It worked. They had a great turnout and because they were willing to spend a little extra on a quality product, now those shirts are worn on a regular basis and act as a walking advertisement throughout the city (that’s what you call good ROI).
  2. White Rock Que is a charity group that hosts a yearly BBQ event to raise money and awareness for the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center. This charity actually was started through some t-shirts. While the event originated as a backyard neighborhood cookout, in 2015, the group decided to put some purpose behind the fun and give away t-shirts to those who donated $20+ to DARCC. Through that small incentive, and with only 200 people, they raised over $5,000. Since then, the event has grown so much that this year, over $50,000 was raised for DARCC and a portion of that still heavily comes through merchandise sold at the event (merchandise has been so successful that this year, in addition to just selling an event shirt, they added a second t-shirt style and a hat).
  3. International Justice Mission is a nonprofit committed to ending slavery all over the world. They realize that having merchandise available is an important way to engage ambassadors and also provide talking points and conversation starters. IJM sells their merchandise to constituents at different events, uses merchandise as giveaways to ambassadors and also provides merchandise to different groups. Branded merchandise is a way to connect people from all over the world to their one singular mission. They’ve been able to do that successfully by selecting merchandise that is in-line with their core values (using products from vendors that are socially responsible and giving business to survivors). The goal for merchandise is creating awareness and opportunities to talk with people about how slavery exists and what they are doing to end it.

Here’s a little food for thought to end on, “Cause-marketing experts, in partnership with promotional products professionals, have developed some of the world’s most renowned and high-performing campaigns, including Livestrong, Susan G. Komen and American Heart Association’s ‘Go Red For Women,’ to name a few. These beneficial branding and awareness programs create community, fund critical research and help save lives,” Paul Bellatone, CAE and PPAI, President and CEO.