Nonprofit Branding: Cost, Impact and Use of Logo T-Shirts

As long as it is of appropriate quality and carries an attractive imprint, a shirt with your logo is a walking billboard for your nonprofit.  Here are the questions to ask yourself about logo shirts:

  • Do T-shirts make economic sense for our marketing program?
  • Do they achieve as much branding impact as print or broadcast advertising?
  • How does their cost per impression compare to other media?

 We answer those questions here – and provide tips on buying effectively.

 THE ECONOMICS AND IMPACT:  Imprint a logo on it. An average $10.00 T-shirt becomes a walking billboard.  It will be seen by 2208 people (remember, we’re talking average here) during its 6-month life. That means your marketing budget will pay $00.005 (half of one hundredth of a penny) for each set of eyes that sees your logo and branding message. This is about ¼ the cost per impression of a prime time commercial.

Something else to remember: industry research cover all T-shirts with all logos. Very few commercial brands can command the pride of association for brand and mission that constituents of a nonprofit feel. People just don’t get too excited about wearing a T-shirt with a Buick logo.  So, we expect that a good-looking, high quality T-shirt with a nonprofit logo will be used longer and more often than the national average. For a nonprofit, that drives the number of impressions up and the cost per impression even lower than the national average.

A good example is the “Sistine Wrench” long-sleeve shirt on the right. A favorite with fans of NPR’s Car Talk, it sold at incredible numbers for almost a decade! People have come back to Car Talk’s Shameless Commerce Division (online store) to buy a replacement for one they finally wore out.

BUYING TIPS: Unless your constituency is primarily female, only unisex/men’s styles and sizes. Most women happily wear them. The reverse doesn’t work: womens’ sizes are fitted and the fabric usually has a bit of synthetic stretch fiber. They look great on women. Men won’t wear them.

Buy 100% cotton heavyweight styles. Weight is measured in ounces per yard. You want to put your logo on a shirt with a 6.0 weight or above. Don’t put your logo on a 50/50 blend. It won’t be used, but it will be remembered, and the recollection will reflect badly on your brand.

For years the T-shirt gold standard was the remarkable Hanes Beefy-Tee. It is still a fine product, maybe not quite as good as it once was, and is no longer the only game in town. Gildan Ultra has become its equal and is usually a few pennies cheaper per shirt.

IMPORTANT: Keep your eye on a brand named Canvas. We think this is an emerging winner  – upscale and beautifully made, it features extremely soft fabric, superior fit at the collar and some high fashion colors. It is also a bit more expensive, but the extra cost will assure you that the end-user will reach for it when the time comes to wear a T-shirt. (You can find these and dozens of other brands in our apparel section:

You may want to consider an eco-friendly T-shirt. They have great appeal and  will someday become a solid part of the product line of companies like ours. But for the moment you must be aware that the supply line for sustainable ready-to-wear has reliability and credibility problems. We discussed these issues a few months ago in a 3-part series of blog posts. The entire series, which covers several kinds of eco-friendly products, is worth reading, but here is the link to the installment  that discusses hemp, bamboo and similarly sustainable T-shirts:

Don’t waste a good shirt with a bad imprint. There are two kinds of bad imprints. One features a lame logo. You can enhance that by adding an appropriate phrase or positioning statement to convey your message. The second bad imprint is the wrong size or in the wrong location. Here is a quick guide:

  • For an event your organization is sponsoring, a large imprint about the event  is OK – with a small graphic reference to your organization. It can be effective on the front OR the back of the shirt.
  • For a T-shirt that represents your organization and its mission rather than an event, the imprint must be small and classy. This imprint can be on the front or on the sleeve.

The primary way to imprint your logo on a T-shirt is through a process called screen-printing. If you are, or expect to be, involved with selecting and purchasing branding products, you need to learn about this process. This blog carries a summary with this overwrought title: Learn How Screen-Printing Works. Fascinate Your Colleagues. Get Invited To The Best Parties. Click here to read it:

BOTTOM LINE: The right T-shirt will be prized by your supporter and will be used more often and for longer than the average – resulting in massive exposure for your logo at a ridiculously low price. The wrong shirt, or the wrong imprint, means the shirt will soon be used to wash the car or to wax the dining room table.

COMING UP: We will take a look at the cost, impact and use of coffee mugs next. Since 1985 the coffee mugs we supplied our public broadcasting clients for use as contributor incentives have raised over $200 million. Good branding mugs are prized by their owners and we think there is a shift underway towards another version of the old standby – a highly productive, mug for marketing and fundraising that boasts saturated colors, overall design and incredibly crisp imprints. We’ll tell you about this in our next post.



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