It’s not unusual to receive an envelope stuffed full of pre-printed address labels, stickers, cards, or desk calendar. At my house, they usually come from an organization with whom I’m affiliated or my alma mater as part of an appeal for a donation.
Some nonprofits give even more extravagantly — offering CDs, books, coffee mugs, shirts, or tote bags — to their donors when a certain giving level is met (think about your local public radio or TV station and their fundraising drives).
While the concept of positive reinforcement or personal rewards for giving makes sense, this is a costly tactic — and does it really work?
In a word — no.
We’ve long known there’s a strong emotional appeal for donors who choose to give to organizations. Giving makes them feel helpful and offers them the opportunity to join in the good work.
Receiving these gifts, according to a recent study, can sometimes make the donor feel selfish and cut down on the feelings of altruism, making these trinkets and gizmos counter-productive.
It’s not all negative, though. The research does point out that premiums can work. They are most successful when:
- They also benefit the organization (i.e., a logo t-shirt or something that creates publicity).
- They are tied to social status (i.e., when you give $X amount, you are invited to a special dinner, forum, event).
- They are a surprise; they are not offered in exchange for a gift but given later as an unexpected thank you.
- And, paradoxically, the “gimmicky” advance goodies — the address labels, stickers, cards, and calendars — sent with an appeal work as well.
Read more about the research at Forbes magazine: “Charities: Don’t Thank Your Donors with a Gift.”
What are some of your most successful gifts for donors?