One of the most critical metrics for measuring alumni engagement is donation volume. If your alumni give back to your college or university at a high percentage, you can safely assume that they’re engaged in the institution’s long-term success.
However, reaching that level of engagement requires a lot of work. Development departments at colleges and universities expend a ton of effort to get alumni interested in changes on campus, new programs for current students, and updates to the programs they were involved in as students.
The most popular way to engage alumni? Throwing an event. Whether that’s a virtual happy hour for graduates of individual colleges or a three-day block party on memory lane, alumni engagement officers can benefit significantly from the face-to-face interactions that a successful fundraising campaign provides.
A ton of planning goes into events: scheduling dates, hiring vendors, investing in event technology (like MemberClicks!), and dreaming up programming. One of the most critical lead-up activities to the event is effective marketing. Without a successful marketing campaign, your alumni won’t attend your event, and you’re back to the drawing board.
Today, we’re discussing a strategy that you can use as a marketing ploy, fundraising strategy, and follow-up and stewardship effort: t-shirt sales. Read on to learn about three key inflection points for including t-shirts in your alumni events:
- Launch a t-shirt campaign as an event marketing tactic.
- Sell t-shirts to fundraise during an event.
- Fundraise using t-shirts after your event concludes.
How do t-shirts support alumni fundraising?
Before we jump into how to sell t-shirts, let’s consider why you should. A large part of your alumni fundraising team’s focus is on major gifts, and rightfully so—these types of gifts have the potential to significantly impact your ability to reach your goals.
But as we’ve seen across various fundraising campaigns, from higher ed to politics, smaller donations pack a big punch and shouldn’t be ignored. While some of your alumni may have the ability to make a significant gift, those who are only a few years out of college are likely still in the early days of their career and not in a position to make a major contribution just yet.
Instead of ignoring these smaller donors, cultivate a relationship with them by recognizing where they are in their career and the value that their support provides outside of financial impact. You’ll find that donors of smaller gifts are also frequently advocates and volunteers for your institution.
T-shirt fundraising is a great way to reach these donors because:
- The supporter gets something tangible in return for their contribution.
- The t-shirt is a permanent, wearable reminder of your school and cause.
- Supporters who can’t travel to attend your event can still participate.
T-shirts provide an excellent opportunity to form deeper connections with low and mid-tier alumni donors who might not otherwise think twice about donating or attending your alumni events. MemberClicks offers several tips like this to boost everyone’s participation in your events in this free guide to Event Planning for Non-Event Planners.
T-shirt Fundraising as a Marketing Tactic
Your alumni event’s marketing campaign is crucial to its overall success—no marketing, no attendees. But marketing isn’t only about getting people through the door. It also has to give them some idea of what the goal of the event is: fundraising.
Don’t be afraid to start your fundraising efforts before the event. If you only count on attendees for donations, you’re missing out on a significant portion of your engaged population. This is where t-shirts come in.
Using a t-shirt fundraising platform like Bonfire, you can design an eye-catching t-shirt and sell it online ahead of your event. You can price the shirts so that supporters pay the lowest possible price, or you can give alumni the option to add a donation to your cause during their purchase. This platform will provide you the flexibility you need to match your event’s needs at no extra cost.
Bonus! For other engaging school fundraising ideas, check out this helpful resource.
Then, you can have the t-shirts delivered to your supporters after purchase or have them delivered to you in bulk to distribute at your event. Doing so is a great way to lay the groundwork for alumni contributing to your fund, as well as getting them excited for your event.
You can get creative with your t-shirts, too. Consider some of the following additional ideas for increased engagement.
T-Shirt Design Competition
You (and your attendees!) want your t-shirts to be cool. They should invoke emotion in your alumni, be attractive enough to be worn on a daily basis, and remind the wearer of what the cause was.
If your team isn’t jazzed about designing shirts or is stuck on what to include, hold a t-shirt design contest among your alumni. This is an especially effective contest for events like 5- and 10-year reunions, where alumni could commemorate memories from their time at your school on the shirt.
Encourage Peer-to-Peer Sales
The beauty of alumni networks is that they are genuinely networks. Your development team has strong relationships with many already active supporters, but those supporters have close friends from college who haven’t answered your calls.
Encourage your alumni to tap into their own social networks and sell t-shirts, especially if the cause that it benefits is one that they’re emotionally invested in. You’ll be able to expand your fundraising reach and capacity far further than you could on your own.
Spread Awareness about Your T-Shirt Campaigns
Once you have your t-shirts and you’ve told your champions what you’re fundraising for, you should incorporate information on acquiring these awesome shirts into all of your event marketing collateral.
Some of the best places to highlight opportunities to purchase merchandise are:
- Your event’s landing page or microsite
- Your university’s social media
- Your alumni newsletter
- Event invitations (both email and print!)
Make it clear that these shirts are both for wearing and fundraising; someone who isn’t a big t-shirt wearer may be more willing to purchase one if it supports one of their favorite programs at your institution.
Selling T-Shirts During Your Event
Once your marketing is complete and the big day has arrived, your event team must be ready and able to sell t-shirts at key junctures at the event. These strategies will vary based on your event, but here are a few ideas for using t-shirts for fundraising for your cause.
Customize several t-shirts, or make some that are different from the majority of the shirts. Then, allow your alumni to buy raffle tickets to enter to win one of these unique shirts.
Brainstorm some ideas with your team to add value to these shirts so that alumni will pay higher prices for the chance to win one, like:
- Have it signed by a famous alumnus, like an athlete or performer.
- Sell vintage t-shirts from exciting years.
- Offer discounted food or drinks to anyone wearing the t-shirt.
Everyone loves a bit of friendly competition, especially when an exclusive prize is on the line. A t-shirt raffle is a fantastic way to boost alumni members’ engagement in your event and raise some extra funds along the way.
Work with some local food and drink purveyors to offer discounts to any alumni wearing your event shirt. Alumni will be more likely to purchase their shirt and wear it out later that day if they know that they’ll benefit from it.
If you’re hosting a fundraising-centric event, like a gala or 5K, use a fundraising thermometer to show your attendees how close you are to your fundraising goal. To get extra creative, fill a physical one with t-shirts and then remove the shirts to give to supporters the closer you get to your destination!
Fundraising thermometers are proven to help add urgency to your fundraising campaign. Since most people are visual learners, they’re more likely to understand your goals when shown in a visual format rather than told the numbers.
As your event comes to a close, encourage your attendees to sign each others’ shirts, like signing a yearbook. This idea adds personal value to the shirts after your attendees go home since they’ll be marked with their friends’ signatures rather than just your design, and attendees who hadn’t yet purchased one may do so to avoid FOMO.
Fundraising with T-Shirts After The Event is Over
One of the great things about t-shirt fundraising, especially with your alumni, is that it doesn’t have to end when your fundraising event is over. Even after the doors are closed, the plates are cleared, and everyone has gone home, you can continue to leverage your shirts for your cause. Here are a few ways you can keep the party going and make a few more t-shirt sales:
- Send an email saying that you missed them and remind those who weren’t able to attend your event that they can still purchase event t-shirts through your college’s website or your t-shirt platform until the campaign closes. Be sure to include the date that the campaign closes.
- Start next year’s t-shirt design contest early, and then sell your overstock “vintage” t-shirts to your alumni at your next event.
- If your alumni were particularly receptive to purchasing t-shirts for a good cause, consider diversifying your options to be more specific for different causes. Create shirts for various colleges or student groups within your university, or some that commemorate different competitive victories.
If you’re testing a few different options, don’t get stuck with inventory that you already paid for and won’t sell. Double-check that your t-shirt fundraising platform allows you to set up your online store with no start-up fees and no inventory required.
Alumni fundraising is a crucial part of your development department’s strategy, and hosting events is a surefire way to keep these graduates connected to your university. By combining your event expertise with t-shirt fundraising, you’ll effectively increase attendee engagement and small donation volume overall. Good luck!