Creative Fundraising: Merchandise Campaigns

Every writer has heard the old adage, “write what you know.” While this does not mean that you cannot step outside your own reality to construct beautifully fanciful stories (after all, JRR Tolkien surely never encountered a Hobbit or an Orc during his life) it does mean that in general, writing about a topic already familiar to you gives you an automatic leg up. So too, when you are an artist in need of creative fundraising ideas, turning to something you already know well as your stepping stone is a good place to start. Using your art to generate funds is a great way to tap into your strengths in order to support your business needs. But how?

Any parent or grandparent (or aunt, uncle, etc.) will tell you that there is no shortage of ways to turn children’s art into beautiful products. The same is true for anyone wishing to raise funds through visual art. These days there are any number of websites designed just to help you turn your artwork into beautiful merchandise to be sold. Three such websites stand out among the rest so I’ve gathered them here to talk about the ins and outs of each.

Bonfire is probably one of the strongest contenders when searching for a home for your wearable art campaign. This is what they do and they do it well. Whether it’s a fundraiser for a family in need or an artist or arts collective like yours, Bonfire has the tools and the products to stand out from the crowd. Bonfire is an easy to use platform that does much of the background work for you. Begin by selecting from their collection of curated apparel. Bonfire maintains a limited stock of items that sell well. You choose which ones you want to work for you and start designing. Bonfire makes it easy to upload your own designs to customize their products. From there, you set your own prices and create your campaign and customize your campaign website. Bonfire campaigns run for a limited number of preset dates. Once a campaign is complete, all shirts ordered will be created and shipped. There are no fees and you are not required to keep inventory on Bonfire. The cost of services comes out of your final sale prices. You can run unlimited campaigns through Bonfire. It’s a great service that has received rave reviews from publications like Rolling Stone and Huffington Post.

Custom Ink, formerly known as Booster, is a site similar to Bonfire. Here, you can design your own products and sell them as a fundraising tool. Unlike Bonfire, which specializes in apparel, Custom Ink has other merchandise options. You can create bags, hats, and other non-tee shirt items. Similar to Bonfire, Custom Ink allows you to take orders directly from the site saving you the hassle of keeping your own inventory and winding up with a whole bunch of stuff nobody buys. The design team at Custom Ink is available to help optimize your design, or you can choose to go it alone. Custom Ink is known for their excellent customer service and has been a staple in the fundraising community since 2000. What began as a small business between a couple of college friends has blossomed into a powerful fundraising tool.

Cafe Press is a bit different from Bonfire and Custom Ink in that it is not technically designed to be a fundraising platform. Rather, Cafe Press is a place where you can design products with your own art and sell them through the online market. There is no timeline limit and Cafe Press will do the marketing for you. While this may sound pretty ideal, bear in mind that Cafe Press is all but saturated with products so standing out from the crowd may prove tricky. On the upside though, there are lots of products to choose from, not just apparel, and many artists turn to Cafe Press as a way to market their art and turn it into beautiful merchandise. The process couldn’t be simpler and Cafe Press will even suggest items that best fit your particular design.

These are only a few of the sites designed to assist you in launching your own merchandise campaign. As a visual artist, your work inherently lends itself to this sort of thing. Not only is this a great way to raise some capital to keep things afloat, it is also a way to get your work out into the world. Putting your art on wearable items means that wherever those items go, there is the potential for conversation about your art. We’ve all approached someone with an interesting shirt before to give a compliment and ask questions. Why shouldn’t the next conversation piece be something you create that helps you sustain your independent art business in the meantime?

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