Balancing ecommerce profits with a nonprofit mission

In “Utilizing ecommerce to support cancer survivors,” my last post, I discussed Stupid Cancer began an online store, and ultimately, a lifestyle brand. Since its inception in 2012, the Stupid Cancer store has had over 8,200 transactions and grossed over $215,000 in earnings.

We started off with a single sequence of white Gildan 5000 t-shirts. That order started the entire increase of the shop. As a nonprofit, we didn’t want to misuse donor dollars by purchasing t-shirt inventory. In actuality, the store has its own checking account, which vendors are paid from, which assists with transparency. Gradually, cash is transferred from the store’s checking account to the account that funds our programs, services, and overhead.

As the store started to pick up speed throughout 2012, we saw an increased demand for new designs and different materials. People wanted short sleeve, long sleeve, raglans, hooded sweatshirts, beanies, etc.. We are blessed to have an outstanding product saleswoman who has found the intersection of minimum order quantities and reasonable prices.

My past retail experience taught me that we need to have at least a 50 percent gross profit margin, which is something that I’ve tried to maintain. One of the unique aspects of our store is that oftentimes our customers are going through hard financial times related to their cancer therapy. This impacts our prices, as we want those customers to be able to handle our products.

Periodically, we’ll incentivize shopping with free shipping weekends or off a proportion. We also have analyzed performing a free-item-with-purchase promotions, along with mystery”grab bags,” where we send to loyal clients a mystery t-shirt together with items that were hanging around the office. It was fun for the recipients of these presents, since the grab bags often contained items that were either out of print or had old branding.


As good as we are with marketing and branding, we realized quickly that we needed assistance with some of the clothing design function. Since”Stupid Cancer” is this a daring term, we generally focus on typography-based designs. Moreover, we utilize”Get Busy Living,” or a combination of both.

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We’ve found design success over the years with 99Designs, the freelancer marketplace for designers. For $250, we get 20 to 30 ideas from a selection of designers. Submissions will only be as good as your design brief, so it’s important to let designers know precisely what you’re trying to find. Along with 99Designs, we have got a couple of artists from the community who sometimes help out.

Among our main problems — and most frequent criticism — is that our clothing is”made by men, for men.” While the former is true (for the most part), we do take comments and input seriously.

We incentivized participants in a survey with a 25 percent discount on a product purchase. This resulted in about 250 responses. Participants were asked about their experience with our store’s checkout and navigation, along with the current product offerings. We also asked about their preferences in color and other elements that affect their purchasing behaviors.

The survey, sent out last month, has moved change. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve given the store a facelift and enhanced individual product descriptions and pages.

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