Using Incentives to Boost Your Fundraising: A How-To Guide

Incentivizing support with rewards, prizes, perks, and products is one of the most reliable fundraising techniques. Nonprofits conducting online campaigns have found great success by incorporating incentives into their strategies in thoughtful ways.

With the holiday season approaching, it’s important that your organization already has a plan in place for breaking your fundraising records. More and more nonprofits rely on Giving Tuesday in particular to engage their widest audiences and generate more support than at any other point in the year!

Combining smart fundraising strategies with donation incentives is a surefire way to boost the success of any campaigns or events you host in the coming months.

Here at Bonfire, we’re experts at custom apparel, so we’ll focus on how branded t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies can take your fundraising efforts to the next level. Remember, these strategies and best practices can apply to any other type of incentive you choose to offer! The most popular and high-performing physical donation incentives include:

  • Custom apparel, like branded t-shirts
  • Accessories, like hats and tote bags
  • Food and drinks, like snacks at an event
  • Gift baskets, gift certificates, and raffle tickets

Donation incentives also include non-physical rewards, too! Special experiences, thank-yous, and recognition at ceremonies or in print can all be great motivators for some donors.

Let’s walk through how you and your team can incentivize increased donations. Whether you’re hosting a standalone crowdfunding campaign or a more complex fundraising event, it’s easy to incorporate incentives and merchandise; it just takes a little extra planning.

Using Incentives in Crowdfunding Campaigns

With the growth of so many online fundraising platforms, it’s easier than ever to get your crowdfunding campaign up and running quickly. What takes a little more skill is building out the strategy to bring it to completion.

Fundraising incentives, merchandise, and other products make the perfect addition to online fundraising campaigns for a few reasons:

  • Most fundraising items, including branded apparel, are cost-effective ways to incentivize donations above a certain threshold. Calculate your average donation and compare it to the price-per-item of your products.
  • Many online fundraising campaigns, especially those promoted on social media, rely on donors making fast, impulsive donations. Incentives tap into and encourage that impulsive desire to get involved.
  • Incentives and products make it easier to encourage donors to give more. If a slightly larger than average gift will get them a free t-shirt, the decision to increase their donation will be a no-brainer.

There are three main ways you might offer incentives and branded products in your crowdfunding campaign, each of which requires different strategies and plans. If you’re hosting an online campaign, think carefully about which method fits best with your goals and timeframe:

1. Crowdfunded Apparel

In this method, the products themselves are both the incentive and the core focus of the campaign. Your donors will purchase a branded t-shirt directly from you or through a t-shirt fundraising platform, with your organization receiving the profits.

Crowdfunding with custom apparel can be a smart move for organizations for a few reasons. It’s straightforward, low-stakes, easy to promote on social media, and encourages the sort of quick, impulsive engagement that’s crucial for success.
If you use a t-shirt fundraising platform, the process is simple:

  1. Design your shirt, featuring your logo or other graphics related to your cause.
  2. Set your fundraising goal. This will determine the price-per-shirt for donors.
  3. Launch your campaign, and promote your shirt’s dedicated page on social media.
  4. Encourage donors to make additional donations when purchasing your shirt.
  5. Shirts are printed and shipped directly to donors once your campaign concludes.

This method of using branded merch and incentives to encourage donations is among the most effective for individuals conducting fundraising projects on behalf of their favorite organizations or causes.

2. Tiered Rewards

Offering a tiered structure of rewards for your crowdfunding donors is another surefire way to incentivize increased engagement with the campaign. A smartly-crafted reward structure can go a long way to boost your donations and express your gratitude to donors.
Here’s how you might choose to offer different levels of incentives to online donors:

  • For any size donation, send donors personalized thank you notes or exclusive newsletter updates on the campaign and your organization’s work.
  • For average donations, offer donors coupon codes for your organization’s merchandise or even inexpensive branded items for free.
  • For mid-sized donations, give donors free t-shirts branded to your organization or the campaign (or another cost-comparable item that also promotes your image).
  • For larger-than-average gifts, send donors a free t-shirt and an invitation to your next exclusive event. Tying an experience into the reward structure is a best practice that many organizations forget when fundraising online.

This is just a sample breakdown of a tiered reward structure for a crowdfunding campaign; how you choose to offer incentives for your own campaign will depend on your goal, your timeframe, and the performance of past crowdfunding campaigns.

3. Contest Prizes

Gamification is an important trend in online fundraising that many nonprofits have been quick to adopt. Simply put, it involves incorporating games, competitions, and challenges into your online campaigns to encourage engagement and to maintain fundraising momentum.

Gamification techniques are the perfect opportunity to offer extra incentives and products during your crowdfunding campaign!

Leveraging your campaign’s time constraints is a classic technique. As your deadline draws closer, create a timed challenge to energize donors and catch the attention of your wider network. You might offer free t-shirts to all donations above a certain amount within a specific timeframe. Or you can arrange a special matching gifts period during which a corporate sponsor will match all the donations you receive.

You might also take a note from the world of peer-to-peer fundraising. Create amazing prizes for the supporters who can attract the most new donors to your crowdfunding campaign. Encourage them to share your campaign on social media, and then make sure you have a system in place to track their shares. You might even give new donors a field to share who referred them to the campaign.

Challenges and games make for excellent subject matter in your emails to donors and subscribers. If you take the time to develop gamification strategies and prizes, make sure to get the word out!

Using Incentives in Fundraising Events

Online fundraising presents plenty of great opportunities to increase donations using incentives, merchandise, and other products. Your events should be the bread and butter of your overall fundraising strategy.

No matter how well you market your crowdfunding campaign or how unique your online incentives are, there’s nothing that can match the actual, in-person engagement of a live fundraising event. After all, interacting with supporters is essential to the health of any organization.
Material rewards and merchandise fit well into most types of nonprofit fundraising events because they complement the engagement of the event itself. When a donor feels great about attending your fundraiser, a physical reminder of your work is the perfect way to deepen that relationship and increase the event’s total revenue.

Here are three reliable strategies to incorporate incentives into your fundraising events:

1. Product Sales and Rewards

The classic merchandise booth is a tried-and-true way for organizations to increase their donation intake during fundraising events. Offering guests the chance to buy a branded t-shirt to show their support of your work can make a serious difference in the final numbers!

However, merchandise can also be used to incentivize more in-person donations. Consider these strategies:

  • Offer free rewards or prizes to donors who make a quick donation of a certain amount while at your event. This can be a great way to encourage more use of your mobile or text-to-give tools.
  • Incorporate gamification techniques into your live events, too. Create fun challenges and games to get attendees excited and engaged, then make the ask for donations. Offer free t-shirts or other prizes to the winners.
  • Create promotional bundles for ticketed events. Including free merchandise with a more expensive ticket package can encourage many attendees to make the upgrade in return for a physical reward.

Offering merchandise for sale at fundraising events is always a smart move, but get creative to think of ways that your merch and rewards can be used to incentivize donations. Not only will this result in increased donations, it’ll also get more attendees engaged and interested in your branded products..

2. Early Bird Sales

Offering your branded merchandise for sale before the event can be an excellent idea in many contexts. For example, you can use a t-shirt fundraising platform to design the perfect event tee, set the price, and launch your campaign a month or two prior to the event.

This way your organization can tap into the community’s building excitement, and your guests will be prepared on the big day with their limited edition t-shirts. This strategy works well for large, public, and annual events like 5Ks, festivals, block parties, and barbeques.

As with other fundraising incentive strategies, take the time to consider how you might tie early bird merchandise sales into your other techniques. Special deals, timed promotions, and ticket bundles might all complement early product fundraising.

Plus, offering merchandise online gives those who might be unable to attend the actual event an alternative opportunity to show their support. Promote your online store or t-shirt campaign in all your event announcements, invitations, and update emails.

3. VIP Perks

Fundraising events also create great chances to offer non-physical rewards and incentives. We’ve already discussed ticket bundles a bit, but they’re an effective and easy way for organizations to boost donations and engagement at events. This is particularly true for your major events like galas and auctions.

Consider these strategies for offering unique event perks:

  • Reserve prime seating at your dinner or gala for upper ticket levels.
  • Offer the opportunity to get directly involved in the event to VIP attendees, like shooting the opening pistol at a race or giving a speech at your donor appreciation dinner.
  • Ask philanthropic local celebrities or bands to attend your event, and then give VIP guests the opportunity to purchase extra meet and greet tickets.

Whenever considering these sorts of VIP perks to boost the impact of your major events, remember that it pays to conduct a little research. Make sure to target these special perks and ticket levels to those donors and community members who you know will be more likely to be interested.

Another strategy might be to reach out personally to any high-capacity donors who also happen to be eligible to have their gifts doubled. This can be an extremely powerful motivator for mid-range and major donors. Check out Re:Charity’s comprehensive matching gifts guide for more information.


Whether you’re planning an event for your community or launching a crowdfunding campaign, you can’t afford to ignore the ways that fundraising incentives like merchandise and special experiences can boost your efforts.

It’s easier than ever to offer unique incentives to donors and grow your brand’s visibility at the same time. Get creative to craft the best possible strategy for your organization or individual project, then research all your options!

Author

Kevin Penney is the CMO and co-founder of Bonfire.com, a company that’s reinventing how people create, sell and purchase custom apparel. He loves solving difficult problems, working with the Bonfire Product team, and hockey. He has over 10 years experience in digital media, design, and technology.