For our charity event, our team decided to partner with the web-based business riptapparel.com to do a one day t-shirt sale, with $3 of every $10 shirt sale going to Autism Speaks. Ript Apparel’s business model is that they sell a different shirt every day, and the shirt is only available for 24 hours then it will never be available again. Independent artists are able to submit their designs to Ript Apparel, who have the final decision on which shirts go on sale. If their design is selected, the artists are paid $1 for each shirt sold. Additionally, Ript Apparel doesn’t print the t-shirts until they are ordered, so they are never stuck with excess inventory.
The advantages of our project were that the website and infrastructure were already in place, and that Ript Apparel already has an existing customer base and a mailing list of around 12,000 people to whom they can send an e-mail blast when needed. For our team, that meant that the major tasks we needed to focus on were creating the t-shirt design, negotiating a donation percentage with Ript Apparel and the artist, and doing additional marketing activities to drive sales. We also created a link from the Ript Apparel website to a direct donations page we created, to give customers the opportunity to make a more sizable donation.
At the outset, our team was projecting to raise $1,450 for our charity, with $2,900 being the high and $675 being the low. Our final total raised was $1,027. Coming in under our projection was disappointing, but we faced some unexpected adversity the day of the sale, when there was a revolt on our message board with people speaking out against our charity and encouraging people not to buy the t-shirt. Among others, there was a post that compared Autism Speaks to a well-know hate group, and another that made it a point to describe them as an evil organization. Since the sale was only for one day, it was difficult for us to counteract this and develop any positive PR. Considering the unexpected circumstances, we feel that the amount we raised from our project was ultimately a success. The project was also successful as a learning experience, as the team faced numerous obstacles and schedule changes over the 2 months and learned to adapt on the fly, applying some of the concepts we learned in class to help us.
For teams doing this project in the future, some advice would be to keep the project simple, especially if you are doing it in the summer where you only have 6 weeks to accomplish everything. Another word of advice is to keep the team size small. We ran into some difficulties with communication between five people, and imagine it would be worse with additional team members. Finally, choose your charity carefully. There are a ton of controversial charities out there, and by picking a neutral charity you can avoid some of the backlash that our team experienced on the website.
One lesson that the team learned is to consider the public’s perception of a project. Even if you think you are doing the right thing, seeing it through the lens of an outsider could reveal some problems that you don’t see internally. Another lesson is to clearly define roles at the beginning of the project, and have one person take the lead rather than everyone trying to contribute equally. Finally, consider all the possible risks, not just those that are likely to occur, and have a contingency plan for all of them.