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For nonprofit organizations, selling products with your name or logo is an excellent way to spread awareness and create interest in your organization. If done right, it can also become a solid additional revenue stream. That’s great news for so many organizations—more funds mean more opportunities to do good work.
Women Who Code (WWCode) is the world’s largest organization dedicated to women in tech. With over 320K members across 147 countries, their mission is to empower diverse women to excel in technology careers. Their members represent a wide range of different careers: from engineers and designers, to students and executives. Many are also returning to work after an extended absence or career change. Whether it’s moms who were out of the workforce for a few years or others who’ve decided to pursue a new career in the flexible, dynamic world of technology, they all have a place within WWCode’s Network.
Just ask Jodi Loar, Senior User Happiness Manager at WWCode. She started out as the organization’s Community Manager, overseeing customer support and communications, and has since expanded her role at the nonprofit. “I’ve been working for WWCode for six years, but before that I was a stay-at-home mom. I wanted a change, so when one of the founding members asked me if I was interested in working with WWCode, I jumped at the chance.”
In addition to her other responsibilities, Jodi manages the organization’s merch store, which has given her firsthand insight into their journey designing and selling custom merch. “In the beginning, it was very much printing one-offs. Someone would reach out to us and say, ‘I’d like a t-shirt with this particular WWCode logo in this size and color.’ Then, it’d be the Director of a Network saying, ‘Hey, I have 10 people who want t-shirts, how can we do this?’”
The organization would get shirts printed as people asked for them, but it was time-consuming, there were inconsistencies in the quality, and they’d have to ship the shirts themselves. WWCode realized they couldn’t continue to do merch the way they had been—the demand was just too much. That’s when they found Printful.
As the organization grew, Jodi knew Women Who Code needed a better production and fulfillment model for their merch. On-demand printing was the right fit, and here’s why:
“The initial setup took some time because there were 65 Networks and I wanted to make sure there was equal representation across all Networks. But it’s second nature now. If I have to create a new iteration of our logo or include a new product, I just go on the site and do it quickly—it takes no time at all.”
“The company we’d been using to print one-offs before partnering with Printful was inconsistent. We’d order a t-shirt in two different sizes and the logos would be different—it wasn’t a good look. It’s important for us that if a Network wants to represent their location, that everyone’s merch is the same, and nobody’s apparel is lacking in quality. So we did our research on what providers could offer product uniformity and Printful was the right choice.”
“Initially we just offered t-shirts, but because we’re in the tech sector, swag is a huge part of what conferences are about. We’d go to these giant conferences and see these incredible product offerings and think, ‘gosh, look at all these options.’”
“I remember going to a major tech conference and coming home and going onto our Printful store and thinking ‘What can we offer that’s really cool? How can we up our game?’ Water bottles, beanies, laptop covers, towels, fanny packs… It was really exciting to branch out from t-shirts. The fanny packs were a massive hit actually! Our members also give us new merch ideas. They’ll say, ‘Hey, what about tote bags? I’d love to represent WWCode like that.’”
“We have our core logo, but it changes depending on certain causes. Our logo was initially just black and white, but we’ve expanded our logo designs to show support for different causes. For example, we’ve created a pride logo, a pride progress logo, and right now we have a logo in support of Ukraine. Creating different designs is not difficult to do with Printful.”
Why did WWCode decide to start selling merch in the first place? “Our members demanded it! Back when we were having our events in person, it was a great way to create camaraderie when we’d come together at our developer conferences.”
The organization first started with Networks, so every offshoot of WWCode represented a certain location. As time went on and things have become more remote (especially during the pandemic) they started to have a lot more members who are virtual. Since then, people have been joining from anywhere. “It’s really amazing to see members from all over the world wearing custom-printed shirts representing their different cities—but with the same shared logo. It’s awesome!”
Using merch to promote your nonprofit can motivate members and give your organization the social lift it needs to get your message out there. Branded products can also serve as an important source of income to keep doing the good work your organization is so dedicated to.
Since all of WWCode’s proceeds go towards supporting their cause, it’s important to not only be able to provide members with custom merch, but to also make money from it. “We put on over 1800 free tech events a year, which is roughly 5–6 events a day, and it’s all free. In order to continue to support these events and get scholarships for members and tickets to conferences etc., our merch shop really does help. It helps in keeping us sustainable and allowing us to have all of our programming free.”
How has WWCode been able to scale their merch operation? Keep reading.
Although WWCode doesn’t have to focus much effort on marketing (their members act as built-in customers), certain strategies help sell products. “Honestly, our members are so proud of our mission and what we’re doing that we don’t have to market our merch very much—they’re already excited to represent who we are.” The team does, however, post new designs or products on the organization’s social media channels and in the newsletter, especially if there’s an upcoming conference.
When does their store see an increase in sales? “When our logo shifts to support a certain cause or when we have our bi-annual developer conference, which is now totally remote. We’ll talk about our merch and we usually create products specifically for that event. In those instances, we definitely see an uptick in sales. Also, when new Networks are launched. That’s another big time when people are really excited to represent WWCode.”
Each year, WWCode hosts a premier developer conference called WWCode CONNECT that focuses on technical resources, career navigation, and leadership for its members. Their most recent conference, CONNECT Recharge 2022, was held on May 26th.
Women Who Code isn’t alone in this strategy. Many nonprofit organizations generate buzz selling specific items at big annual events or at certain times of the year. Think Girl Scout cookies (usually only available several weeks a year) or other specialty merch sold at yearly events or festivals.
If your organization can create and promote products oriented towards these specific occasions, it’ll build interest for these popular items in your network and beyond. This is a great way to develop a regular source of funding that you can count on.
Jodi knows how important it is for nonprofits like WWCode to offer excellent merch options to their community. “Your members deserve to be proud of who you are and what you represent. Don’t you want the people who support your work to walk down the street and have your logo on their jacket?”
Her advice for other organizations that haven’t started selling merch yet is to try print-on-demand. With no upfront investments or signup fees, it’s the obvious choice for those just starting out. “It’s a little bit of work at first but it’s so worth it. It really increases enthusiasm and excitement. Everyone loves walking around and matching fellow members and feeling like they’re repping a great cause.”
Sarah is a Senior Content Writer at Printful with experience in editing, translation, and teaching. She holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and is passionate about language.
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