It was a few years back when I first saw it. Someone on the street wearing a Club Sandwiches Not Seals hoodie. In those two seconds it took me to read the line, I was hooked. I had to have one.
First of all, I’m a sucker for all things animals so that box was checked. But there it was, so unabashedly bringing to light one of the major initiatives at the time that PETA was working on solving...the unnecessary abuse of baby seals. I felt it was my duty to wear that hoodie and by doing so, spread the word.
I found that sweatshirt in my closet the other day and it made me think about how many cause-related tees I see day in and day out and how few there are that I’d actually wear.
Now, I’m not saying I’m a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination, and I want to support so many nonprofits with more than just my wallet. But when you look at all the tees out there related to a cause, you start to wonder if they really want their supporters to wear the shirt. I really do want to wear their shirts and show my support. It’s just that...well, so many shirts really need a makeover.
Tees are a staple to any nonprofit marketing initiative. They’re great to give out to top donors, new supporters, loyal staff, tireless volunteers, and people crazy about your cause. If you can get someone to wear your shirt and it’s powerful enough strike a conversation between that supporter and 10 of their friends, that’s a pretty big win. All of the sudden you’ve got 10 more people who know who you are, what you do, and could potentially donate to and fundraise for your cause. It’s a grassroots way to spread the word. It’s kind of like the original “offline” social fundraising.
So I set out to find a few tees supporting causes that I’d actually wear and came up with a few gems I’m excited to share. Here we go.
I’m not a Monster
Why I’d wear it: This tee from I’m not a Monster tee hit me the same way the Club Sandwiches Not Seals one did. They took the issue, dispelling myths associated with misunderstood dog breeds, and they flip the script. They could have just smacked on their logo and a picture of a dog (would you ask someone about that shirt?), instead, they take the whole concept of confront people’s misconceptions of pit bulls and stick it blatantly on the shirt. You immediately know that this organization is all about promoting the the fair treatment, protection, and love of this breed.
They could’ve said ‘Help Keep Pit Bulls out of Shelters’, or ‘I love Pit Bulls’, but do those hit you as hard? With the ‘i sleep with pit bulls & i’d like to keep it that way’ shirt, you feel an emotional connection with the cause, the owners of the breed, and the lovers of these misunderstood dogs.
Plus, they make dog hoodies, so it’s hard not to include ‘em on the list.
How you can do it: Think of your message at it’s most basic form. If you were talking to a friend, how would you get the point across in a more casual way? When I say casual, I don’t mean downplaying the importance of your mission. I mean you’d be more likely to talk candidly. You might use a little humor or get a little serious. And this direct approach is authentic and will evoke more of a response from your friend. Talk about your mission a little differently and see what happens.
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Why I’d wear the shirt: The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is an organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of Africa’s Wilderness, particularly elephants and Black Rhino. They use illustration to get their message across. Their shirts are beautiful. The pencil drawing is simple yet powerful and the one with multiple elephants is like wearing artwork.
In addition, their message is simple and direct. On the front of the first shirt it’s ‘Save more elephants.’ On the back of the second one it’s, ‘for the love of elephants.’ The clear messaging and nice imagery effectively ties a bow around this tee. It’s a simple way of explaining what they’re all about without using a lot of words or a fancy logo that’s hard to decipher.
How you can do it: Within your supporter group, you probably know someone who is artistically inclined. Maybe your best donor is an art lover and can connect you with someone who’d love to help your cause. Maybe a board member paints on the side. Maybe a staff member can take a picture and turn it into a sketch. Think about the resources you have and see if anything clicks.
Why I’d wear the shirt: Back to PETA. They have so many tees and so many individual topics that their cause stands for, but they do a really great job of illustrating connections. So while the first example with the pit bulls was all about the words, and the second with the elephants was all about the imagery, this one is an in-betweener. I believe that’s the technical term.
They distilled their message down to the connection between equal rights for humans and animals and with simple imagery and a strong tagline. And they hit the mark. It’s kind of the ‘less is more’ theory which applies to so many aspects of our lives.
How you can do it: Again, it’s all about the heart of your mission. Sometimes we’re so in it that we stop thinking outside the box to create another connection. Grab some staff members and have a brainstorm about iconic imagery that relates to your cause. Can you get to a place where you can incorporate stark imagery with a catchy tagline? Sorry for saying catchy. Totally inappropriate.
Stand Up To Cancer
Why I’d wear the shirt: This one is the only one on the list that is a basic logo tee. Now, their logo happens to be really, really good. I mean, it’s got the arrow to relate to the ‘Up’, and the 2 so it’s visually more interesting. It’s succinct and can be illustrated in many different formats.
That’s not to say that if you have a busier logo - or your logo is longer, bigger, or more complicated - that it won’t work. What really hit me about the Stand Up To Cancer tees was their choice of tee color. In a past life I actually worked in retail and the company I worked for sold thousands of tees. Guess what the best selling tee colors were? Grey. White. Black. Looks like those colors are the most popular not just where I worked, but across many tee markets.
How you can do it: This one is the easiest. Are you using the right color tees? If you’ve got a lime green and orange logo, pop it on a heathered grey tee. It immediately calms down the vibrancy of the colors and gives it a completely different vibe.
Why I’d wear the shirt: Wow. A shameless plug? Creepin’ in at the end of the blog? How disappointing. Ok...let me explain myself. When we decided to create a tee for CrowdRise, we started to research the same things I just outlined and decided that in order to create a shirt people would wear, we had to change our approach.
Instead of just creating a shirt with our traditional logo on it, we wanted to try something with a statement we felt represented our brand. And the Decent Human was born. At our core, we want to be a platform that helps more Decent Humans do more good. It was intriguing, a little out there, but we’re stoked to say, people are totally digging it and do ask us about it on the street. Also, we decided to listen to the world and make it on a heather grey shirt with light black writing. Simple, looks good on everyone, and is super easy to wear.
Don’t forget about the tee
This brings me to my last point about creating tees your supporters will actually wear. Make sure you pay attention to the ice cream of this sundae...the tee.
We’ve been through it all, we’ve seen every type of tee, style of tee, and have tried to cater to everyone’s likes and dislikes. My best advice is to have something for everyone in terms of sizing, but make sure you’re giving out a tee that feels nice, isn’t stuck in the 90s with a super boxy fit and scratchy fabric, and most importantly, make sure it’s something YOU would wear.
What am I missing?
Instead of the obligatory conclusion summarizing all these fascinating points about how to create a tee that represents your cause and is something someone will actually wear, I want to hear from you. What tees am I missing? Get at us on Twitter with your favorite nonprofit or cause-based tee with hashtag #ShirtsThatDontSuck. We want to hear from you.
And remember, you want your supporters to be evangelists for your cause...creating a network of their own that helps to share your mission, spread awareness, and bring new supporters and donors around. So make sure you’re giving them the power to help you do that. A great tee can definitely help.