How NOT To Waste Money on Branded Swag

You probably never thought twice about that pen you use that has your local bank’s name on it, but when you become the one ordering branded swag for your nonprofit, suddenly all you can think about are questions. Which branded swag is best? Should you order pens, or should you get T-shirts, car magnets or banners? All of the above? And when you order them, how do you stay within budget? Who designs these items? Is it you? If so, how do you know if you’re doing it right?

Alan Rosinski

Alan Rosinski

If these questions sound familiar, take heart. You’re not alone. Most nonprofits go through a learning period of testing swag products and figuring out what works. But to save you the time and money of learning by mistakes, here are a few tips worth remembering. Follow this advice to make the most of your swag and to appeal to your donors:

1. Start with Strategy

Before you go ordering 500 water bottles with your foundation’s logo printed on them, ask yourself why you’re doing it. More than that, ask yourself if the swag matches your organizational mission, if it will be useful at community events and if it aligns with your greater mission. Starting with a clear strategy goes a long way toward preventing wasted orders and mixed messages. For any branded swag you order, always:

  • Ensure it aligns with your nonprofit’s mission.
  • Use the same color scheme, logo, etc., already identified with your organization.
  • Speak to your target audience (for example, swag for prospective college students versus swag for stay-at-home moms).
  • Make it useful — forget paperweights and think about swag donors will use and be reminded of you, such as phone rechargers, notebooks, reusable water bottles, car magnets, etc.

2. Understand File Formats

Unless you’re a designer, the technicalities of file formats can feel a little overwhelming. So here’s what you need to know: Your design will likely need to be in an .EPS file format. Printers like .EPS because it removes pixelation, making images easier to blow up to various sizes and in various applications. The best way to create these types of files is with Adobe Illustrator (free trial here).

3. Always Order Samples

Except for situations where you’re pressed for time and on tight deadlines, order a proof of a product before ordering it in bulk. It goes without saying that ordering a sample can save you significant money down the line. If your logo is too pixelated, if your organization’s name is misspelled or if there’s a mistake in style or size, catching it at the sample stage is much better than catching it when you’ve already printed a thousand.

4. Expect a Waiting Period

Ordering swag isn’t like shopping online. You can’t expect your products to arrive the next day; rather, you’ll typically wait one to two weeks before receiving your items. Build that into your processes so you don’t run behind on deadlines for events.

5. Define ROI

The last thing to keep in mind with branded swag is return on investment. Sure, other nonprofits have coasters and T-shirts, but is that enough of a reason to create your own? It will cost money to order products, so you need to know what you’re looking to see in response. Here are a few ways branded swag offers payback:

  • Brand Exposure: The most obvious benefit of branded swag is heightened brand awareness. When your donors place your car magnets on their bumpers, they’re spreading your name to new potential donors and volunteers.
  • Brand Reinforcement: When someone uses your water bottle, they’re reminded of your organization and what you do. While the effects of branding are hard to quantify, you could watch website traffic or social media engagement and use branded swag to boost it.
  • Lead Generation: Want to use swag to bring in new prospective donors? Give people swag when they drop off their business card or when they sign up for your newsletter. When individuals stop by your booth at a community fair, get their email addresses before handing out T-shirts. Later, you can use this information to reach out to those individuals again.

Weigh the benefits of branded swag against the budgetary constraints of your organization, and you have a better idea of how much to spend and how.

Your Thoughts

Does your nonprofit have branded swag already, or are you looking into it for the first time? What are the biggest obstacles for you? Or if you’ve been ordering swag for years, what other advice would you give other nonprofits? What’s important to keep in mind?

The preceding is a guest post by Alan Rosinski, a writer at LogoMagnet, a company that designs, produces and distributes custom magnets for schools, non-profits, sports teams and more.

2 responses to “How NOT To Waste Money on Branded Swag

  1. Excellent primer! I’d like to make non-profits aware of a donor affinity and fundraising solution offering logo branded products that is extremely cost effective; no upfront payments, no inventory, no minimum orders and perhaps most valuable of all…. the comprehensive solution handles all the order fulfillment activities. All this allows the non-profit to stay focused on their core mission, while enjoying a significant source of revenue and donor affinity. More info at http://www.CampaignAbility.com

  2. My organization,ECAD, Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities, uses CampaignShops by Firefox. It’s a great branded merchandise solution for nonprofits. It has really been a huge benefit in building our online store. For example: not having to invest in inventory, having all the supply side handled for you, no upfront orders, reduced admin, integration with donor management, running on Facebook for social media fundraising, etc. We highly recommend it!

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