How a t-shirt helped the Terry Fox Foundation hit the ground running

A Douglas Coupland design has led to the non-profit's best April launch ever as it looks to up its appeal with Gen Z.

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The Terry Fox Foundation is using t-shirts that wouldn’t seem out of place at a stylish boutique to appeal to college-aged kids and drive interest in its annual run.

Designed by JPod/Generation X author and Fox family friend Douglas Coupland in collaboration with the family, the shirt features a dot-screened portrait of Terry Fox and “I’m Not a Quitter” printed on the sleeve or back. The shirt was designed to embody Fox’s indomitable spirit and printed by longstanding legacy corporate partner, Adidas, which initially gifted Fox the footwear used on his iconic run.

But this year’s campaign was not just about the shirt, but who was wearing it. In addition to Coupland himself, partners include celebrities like Ryan Reyonlds, Alessia Cara, Perdita Felicien, Sidney Crosby and many more, all of whom participated by photographing themselves in the shirt on social channels to drive awareness ahead of the 2022 Terry Fox Run.

T-shirts have been an annual part of fundraising, but have typically resembled the kinds of shirts common for participants to wear during other fundraising events and charity runs. In addition to being a more stylish offering, Denise Dias, the Foundation’s VP of marketing and communications, says this is also the first time its shirts have been used as a marketing tool in their own right. According to Dias, who joined the Terry Fox Foundation last year after a longtime stint marketing for the Royal Ontario Museum, it’s a special piece and an attention grabber.

The Foundation’s annual campaign typically begins on April 12 – the same day Fox began his Marathon of Hope – but Dias says this is the best launch it has had. It has far exceeded the organization’s goal of selling 5,373 within 24 hours, equal to the number of kilometers Terry ran 42 years ago. Registrations for the annual fall run – slated this year for Sept. 18 – are already up 152% compared with the same point last year, and attention around the shirt has gained nearly 150 million media impressions.

Ryan-Reynolds

While it’s certainly diversifying revenue streams, Dias emphasizes that the run will always be the heart and soul of the organization. It is a “classic Canadian tradition” for millions of school-aged children who participate in local runs or are introduced to Fox’s story through classroom curricula, as well as their parents and teachers.

However, it’s that middle group of high school and college-age people, Dias says, who the Foundation needs to appeal to to take part in its annual event, hence an approach built around recognizable personalities and shirt design that they could see themselves wearing year-round.

She also describe the need to appeal to youth as her main challenge as a marketer. This is especially true as, during lockdowns, the Foundation bucked trends typically seen in the nonprofit set and that mid-pandemic fundraising actually increased.

To bring the social and OOH campaign to life, the Foundation worked with long-standing partner No Fixed Address for creative and PR, and also Terry Fox booster Jim Pattison, a legacy partner since the beginning. Web agency Scratch assisted with design and web management for the project.

“It’s a very small spend considering the results,” Dias says, and says its agency partners and celebs are all passionate about the cause.

The Terry Fox Foundation has a $150 million dollar grant match with the government of Canada to raise money for the Marathon of Hope Cancer Network, and it’s gearing up to meet its research fundraising targets for that, with a larger scale campaign to be unveiled shortly.