Guest post by Kevin Penney, CMO and cofounder of Bonfire

Your fundraising team already works hard to engage your community of supporters in all your campaigns. Smart online strategies like crowdfunding, social media marketing, and peer-to-peer fundraising are unrivaled tools for getting larger and larger audiences interested in supporting your work.

This is especially true when your digital strategies are paired with effective fundraising software that can give you the big picture you need for smarter planning!

However, it’s not all about digital engagement. Getting your supporters pumped up for your cause must happen on the ground, too.

When it comes to ground-level engagement strategies, nothing beats product fundraising! Physical products can take a fundraising campaign to the next level overnight, that is, if your team puts the time and thought into developing the perfect ideas that get your donors excited.

We’ve selected a few of our favorite product fundraising ideas that reliably engage all kinds of donors:

  1. T-shirt fundraising
  2. Upcycle challenge
  3. Custom event merch
  4. Legacy drive
  5. Holiday items

Plus, all these ideas are extremely flexible. Get creative to adapt them to any broader campaign you might be conducting or other fundraising ideas you’re developing. Products are a smart way to give your projects that final push to meet (and exceed!) your fundraising goals.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go.

1. T-shirt fundraising

T-shirts are a mainstay of product fundraising for nonprofits because they work. They’re cost-effective and fully customizable to suit any need.

T-shirt fundraising hits three targets at once: raising funds for your mission, building a sense of community among your supporters, and promoting your image or brand to the world.

When your team is ready to get started, carefully weigh your options. The real key to success with t-shirt fundraising is to find a design platform and printing service that offers multiple flexible options. Any great platform should offer these abilities:

  • Place direct bulk orders of any size
  • Create online pages to promote and sell your shirts
  • Launch crowdfunding-style campaigns to sell shirts and accept donations

These options allow your organization to run its t-shirt fundraising campaign exactly how it sees fit. You might design, order, and sell event-specific shirts, like team uniforms for a 5K. You could create the perfect shirt to promote online to your social media followers.

Either way, your shirt will engage your audiences, raise money, and help your supporters feel that they’re part of something bigger.

Plus, t-shirts have plenty of other versatile uses, too! You might create a new uniform for your event staff and volunteers, or you could design a shirt specifically to be given away as thank you gifts to donors. No matter how you choose to make use of custom tees, they’ll project an image of your nonprofit as organized and professional.

T-shirt fundraising campaigns work for all kinds of organizations, from schools to animal rescues to advocacy groups. Any mission that gets supporters fired up and has a strong culture of ground-level engagement can find success with t-shirts.

2. Upcycle Challenge

Hosting an upcycle challenge is a great way to combine multiple fundraising strategies into one engaging event! Invite your supporters to help you create works of art from old junk, then use those masterpieces as fundraising products. Here’s how you might do it:

  1. Start promoting your upcycle challenge to your social media followers and request donations of old, used, or broken items.
  2. Organize your event. Collect all your donated items and arrange them in your event space for attendees to browse.
  3. Ask attendees to register to participate in the challenge. They’ll have a set amount of time to create a beautiful work of sculptural art from the used and broken items.
  4. Gather all the completed works of art and invite a judge to rank them. Give a prize to the top three upcycle artists.
  5. The next day, host a silent auction event with your upcycled sculptures as the starring attractions!

This basic outline can be adapted to incorporate plenty of other fundraising strategies and techniques. The key idea, though, is to plan an engaging multi-day event for supporters to help you create the products that you’ll then offer as fundraising items.

You can take your upcycle challenge in all kinds of directions. For instance, this challenge is great for kids’ fundraising. A school might ask its students to participate and then invite all the parents to a dinner and silent auction that weekend. Maybe your organization could ask notable local artists to donate their time and talents to your upcycle challenge.

Creative challenges like this are an excellent way to maximize the efficiency of your product fundraising campaigns. Getting everyone involved in the entire process can strengthen the bonds between your organization and its supporters.

3. Custom shirt fundraising

Any great fundraising event isn’t complete without custom merchandise. As with hosting a t-shirt fundraising campaign, merchandise more generally works to promote your image and engage your supporters as it raises money for your mission.

Be sure the merchandise you offer is both branded to your nonprofit and genuinely useful for your donors. You might create:

  • Branded or event-specific apparel
  • Water bottles
  • Bracelets or armbands
  • Frisbees or other toys
  • Canvas tote bags

Set up a sales booth at all your fundraising events to display and offer your organization’s merch, but take the time to create an online storefront, too. This can be particularly useful if your next large-scale events require online registration ahead of time.

An alternate idea is to create swag bags with your custom merch! Swag bags boost engagement and get audiences excited to support your mission. They’re typically given away as free promotions to attendees and participants.

However, there are a few strategies for using swag bags to boost your merch sales. Give away a set amount to certain attendees, like the first twenty to arrive or donors who give more than $50. Make sure to create merch that can’t be found in the swag bags, too, like limited edition tees that can only be purchased.

Whether you’re selling t-shirts, creating swag bags, or hosting a DIY event, product fundraising is all about creativity.

This is especially true for creating and selling custom merch. Make sure that you offer your donors and attendees something new! That’s the single best way to ensure that your fundraising products will actually engage your audiences and boost donations.

4. Legacy drive

This product fundraising idea is more specifically targeted to a higher level of donor than most of your event attendees and online followers.

Conducting a legacy drive as part of a larger annual or capital campaign is a highly effective strategy for meeting your goals and seriously boosting your donor relations. Plus, a legacy drive can be an excellent way to identify new major donors within your list of existing supporters.

The basic idea is to offer donors the chance to purchase a customized product that will become part of a larger installation at your offices or facilities. You’ve likely seen sidewalks built of engraved bricks before; donor walkways are a classic example of a legacy drive project.

You could offer your donors the chance to leave their legacy at your organization with any of the following products or strategies:

  • Engraved bricks
  • Individual plaques
  • Inclusion on a larger plaque of donors
  • Inclusion on a large recognition sign for events
  • Inclusion on an electronic sign or bulletin board at your offices

Explore Double the Donation’s comprehensive guide to donor recognition walls for more ideas on how you can incorporate these kinds of products into your fundraising strategies.

You may choose to target your legacy drive products to only certain types of donors for the greatest effect. They include major donors, planned givers, major in-kind or corporate sponsors, and donors to your capital campaigns.

Get creative to develop tiers for your legacy drive, though! For instance, you could offer individual plaques at your new facilities for major donors. Then offer online supporters the option to purchase an engraved brick for a lower price and construct a donor walkway with them. Tiered strategies can effectively engage multiple levels of donors with your fundraising products.

5. Holiday Items

November and December are important months for nonprofits and not just because many donors are eager to make a tax-deductible gift before year’s end. The holidays represent a major opportunity to use your fundraising products to tap into that proven boost in giving at the end of every year.

Get creative to think of products that you might offer to supporters during the holidays:

  • Wrapping paper
  • Baked goods and candy
  • Greeting cards
  • Candles
  • Your own merch as gifts for supporters

Think of some fundraising partnerships you might coordinate, too! For instance, you can negotiate a fundraising percentage deal with a local tree farm to supply your supporters with Christmas trees and front door wreaths.

Successfully boosting your end of the year donations with fundraising products requires some careful planning. Rolling out your products at the start of December usually won’t cut it. Develop a comprehensive marketing plan to ensure that all your supporters, both online and at events, will know about your product offerings by the time the holidays roll around.

You probably take the time to promote year-end giving campaigns well in advance. Start promoting your products by including them on these emails and postcards. Next, focus your social media messaging to explain your products and how to buy them.

Don’t feel limited by the end of the year, though. Valentine’s chocolates and Mother’s Day flowers make extremely reliable fundraising products for all kinds of organizations.

Many organizations are reluctant to invest any more time or thought into their product fundraising strategies than the bare minimum, but that shouldn’t be the case.

Product fundraising encompasses a wide range of flexible and versatile ideas. From t-shirt fundraising campaigns to legacy-building product drives to engaging DIY events, there are all kinds of ways to bolster your donations and relationships by offering tangible products.


Kevin Penney has been working in digital media for over ten years. He’s the CMO and co-founder of Bonfire, an online platform that’s reinventing the way people create, sell and purchase custom apparel. He enjoys strategizing, working closely with his team, and hockey, exactly in that order.