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Celebrating the Philadelphia Fire Department with a Custom T-shirt Fundraiser

The Philadelphia Fire Department began almost 285 years ago as a volunteer service and became a professional establishment in 1871… which means they’ve had a big 150th birthday this year. What better way to celebrate a milestone—and give your community a way to support you—than by running a custom t-shirt fundraiser?

David Kearney in the 150th Anniversary Fundraiser shirt.

As they say on their fundraising page, “Our mission is to raise funds needed to promote the fire prevention and life safety education programs helping the PFD better protect the citizens of Philadelphia. We promote and seek to implement new ideas that continue to support fire prevention initiatives. We are committed to expanding beyond our present scope, increasing funds available for technology and equipment which will enhance the Philadelphia Fire Department’s reputation as a model for others to emulate. We are motivated to work collaboratively with all PFD sister organizations. We strive for excellence in serving the needs of the Philadelphia Fire Department and the many men and women who protect the City of Philadelphia every day.”

We caught up with Fundraising Volunteer with the Philadelphia Fire Department Foundation Dave Kearney to find out more about how they’ve used the Custom Ink Fundraising platform to great success.

CI: Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
DK: The Philadelphia Fire Department Foundation is a non-profit agency that supports the mission of the Philadelphia Fire Department (PFD). I have been volunteering in support roles for the last 20 years. Five years ago I was asked to help with fundraising activities because of my past experience with volunteer organizations, fundraising and within the fire and emergency medical services.

CI: How did you get started doing fundraisers? 
DK: In 2001 I designed an embroidered patch that honored the members of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) after a friend lost his son [in] the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The proceeds from the sale of the patches raised over $135,000 that was donated to a fund that supported the lost firefighters’ families. I was also involved in other events that raised funds for our fire prevention efforts. Five years ago I started using t-shirts to fundraise.

CI: Can you tell us more about the cause that the funds are going to support? 
DK: In the last year we had Custom Ink help us raise funds for three different causes: 

  1. The Foundation supplied personal care and cleaning products for firefighters and medical personnel at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was supported by the sales of a “KEEP BACK 6 FEET” shirt. 
  2. The PFD is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2021 and the foundation is using proceeds from commemorative products to support the foundation’s mission because traditional fundraising efforts were less productive since the onset of the pandemic. 
  3. We hold an annual Breast Cancer awareness fundraiser and donate the funds to local charities that provide Breast Cancer awareness and support services to underserved populations in Philadelphia. 

John Leary in the COVID-19 Fundraiser shirt.

CI: What products did you choose?
DK: We have offered tee shirts, hoodies, and mugs. 

CI: Why did you choose those products?
DK: Mostly based on supporters’ requests. We initially only offered short sleeve tees and we were quickly flooded with requests to widen the types [of] products offered. 

CI: Where did you get your design/logo?
DK: I am responsible for all of our designs. Prior to becoming a paramedic and firefighter I had training in graphic design and had worked as a printer’s apprentice and screen printer, so I had some insight as to what would work for us, but I also think that the design tools that Custom Ink provides are intuitive and easy to use for anyone. I’ve steered lots of friends that are interested in doing fundraisers to Custom Ink because of the ease of use of the design tools.

CI: How does custom gear help you get the word out about your cause?
DK: Our shirts are conversation starters. Whether it’s members of the PFD wearing them on duty or supporters wearing them while out and about, they generate buzz. People want to be associated with our mission and support our causes.

CI: What advice would you give to someone who wants to run a fundraiser?
DK: In the past I handled all the logistics myself or with a small group of volunteers. Sorting, packing and shipping thousands of items is very labor intensive. Not having to manage that plus an on-line store, payment processing, and supporters’ inquiries means that we can concentrate on providing support to the PFD and the citizens of Philadelphia. 

Blaise Kearney in the Breast Cancer Fundraiser shirt.

CI: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
DK: Using Custom Ink to handle our fundraising efforts has been a real lifesaver. I wish I had discovered how much time and aggravation could have been saved by using a third party for an online storefront, printing and fulfillment a lot sooner. Compared to before using Custom Ink, my life has become a lot less stressful and our donations have grown. Since switching to Custom Ink we’ve been able to raise tens of thousands of dollars to help our causes. 

If you’re inspired by PFD’s story, you can start your own fundraiser today.



Miellyn is the Copy Manager at Custom Ink. Her work has spanned marketing for television networks like TLC and Travel, educational content for Smithsonian and National Geographic, marketing and story for indie video games, essays for publishers including Random House, The Telegraph, and Smart Pop Books, and stories for press outlets like VICE and VH1.

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