Note: this post is written from my experience using t-shirt sales as a fundraiser for a school club, but the tips here are applicable to any organization.
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I’m the sponsor of my high school’s FBLA club. In addition to the state and national dues that students pay, we also travel to a district leadership conference every February and a three-day state leadership conference every April. Beyond that, any students who place high enough in competition at state qualify for the national conference, which is held in a different city each year (anywhere from Nashville to Chicago to Houston to Anaheim).
All of that to say I know the expenses associated with various clubs and I know that the fees can add up. Most of my FBLA members are also members of other clubs and athletes on various sports teams, too. I try hard to hold a few fundraisers throughout the year to help offset the costs associated with FBLA.
We sell Krispy Kreme donuts and coffee twice a year. That fundraiser is always a hit, and I allow club members to apply the proceeds of their sales directly to their own entry fees and lodging costs. What that fundraiser doesn’t cover, though, is the cost of the bus to get us where we’re going or the chaperon expenses: lodging and meals for the 3-4 adults required to supervise 30-40 high school students.
That’s where our t-shirt sales come in. Every year, FBLA creates and sells a Spring Break-themed t-shirt. We don’t make thousands of dollars from the project (we’re a small school), but we make enough to cover the bus costs for all of our travel and to pay for chaperons, which means we don’t have to pass that expense along to the students.
Having a successful t-shirt fundraiser doesn’t require a degree in graphic design or marketing. Here’s how I do it.
1. choose a universal event
We sell spring break t-shirts because that’s what FBLA did before I took over. You could do Homecoming, Back to School, or just a generic spirit shirt. To maximize profit, though, choose an event that appeals to as many students as possible. Prom, for example, would likely only appeal to high school juniors and seniors. The more students involved with or participating in the event your shirts portray, the more opportunities for sales.
2. design a shirt that appeals to both genders
This is probably a no-brainer, but I pay careful attention to colors and fonts when designing my shirt. I avoid anything too girly or too masculine, as I obviously don’t want to alienate half of my potential customers.
3. stick with simple designs
I design and purchase all of my shirts through Custom Ink. The design process is streamlined and simple, it’s easy to switch between different styles and colors of shirts, and the ordering process is pretty painless (they accept purchase orders, which is a big plus for me).
With Custom Ink, and I imagine with just about any custom shirt website, a one-color design is cheapest. It’s also cheaper to only have a design on the front or the back of the shirt. Multiple colors or front-and-back designs don’t increase the price too much, but the more you add, the more you pay per shirt, eating into your profit.
4. sell to the whole district
As I mentioned above, my school is small. Our whole district is small, just 2A. To broaden your pool of potential customers, don’t confine your shirt sales to your school. Include any other schools or organizations in your district or town that might be interested in buying, too.
5. idiot-proof the order form
Don’t create more work for yourself by making an order form that is confusing or incomplete. When you create your order form, make it as uncluttered and streamlined as possible. Include an image of the shirt design, vital details about when the form is due and when shirts will arrive, and who checks should be made payable to.
The spot for actual sizes, and the price per shirt, should be featured prominently and be hard to miss. In addition, you’ll want to include a spot for any extra info you might need; for me, I need the name of the student and his/her grade and homeroom teacher.
6. tally as you go
When I begin receiving order forms, I create a manila folder to store them in. On the left side of the inside of the folder I attach a piece of paper or a note card with a spot for each shirt size we’re selling. On the right side is a paper clip for holding all of the forms. Each time I get a form, I add the shorts purchased to the tally on the note card and stick the form under the paper clip on the right side.
This way, when it’s time to finalize the order and buy the shirts, I already know what the total should be (I have students help with the final total, so I need to be able to verify their numbers against mine). In addition, I like to know the total as I go so that I can see how on-track we are with last years’ sales.
7. make copies of order forms
When all forms have been received and the shirts have been ordered, make a copy of every order form. When the shirts arrive, use one copy to get each order together and send home with the shirts. Keep a copy of each form for your records, in case you have a disgruntled customer (despite the fact that this is a fundraiser, held in support of a school club, run by a volunteer sponsor, I’m surprised by how rude parents can be about incorrect orders).
8. recruit students to help when shirts arrive
On the day we receive our shirts, I recruit members of the club to help sort and organize orders. I only allow 4-5 students so as not to make it confusing. We pile each size on a different desk and everyone grabs an order form. We collect the size(s) listed on the form and use a rubber band to affix the form to the shirt(s). Each student has a highlighter and, before moving on to the next order, they highlight each size ordered and write their initials on the form.
When all orders have been filled, each one gets double- and then triple-checked. We all divide into pairs and verify the orders, with each partner independently looking over the form and the shirt sizes before initialing and moving to the next order. Only when an order has three sets of initials does it get to leave the room.
9. Consider ordering extras
I don’t order extra Spring Break t-shirts. I just don’t want to spend money on them and then risk not having them sell. If I was selling generic spirit shirts, though, or even homecoming shirts, I would consider ordering a few extra in the most popular sizes. I don’t think they would be difficult to get rid of if I posted about them on our district’s Facebook page.
10. allocate your profit
After putting time and effort into making your fundraiser successful, don’t make the mistake of simply depositing the funds in your account and calling it good. Sit down and plan exactly what your funds will pay for.
For example, assume I did a t-shirt fundraiser to pay for our trip to the state conference. Assume we raised $700 and are planning to take 30 kids and three chaperons. I would first figure out the expenses associated with the chaperons: hotel rooms, meals, and conference admission. I would subtract that total, say $550, from the $700.
Then I would look at the remainder, $150, and apply that to specific expenses, most likely the cost of the bus to transport us to and from the conference. Any leftover money would be divided among the students who volunteered to help tally orders or distribute shirts.
Basically, it’s important to have a specific plan for your funds; otherwise, you’ll either spend more than you earned or you’ll not make the best use of the money you raised.
Have you held a t-shirt fundraiser? What tips would you add to this list?