It’s the season of giving, and nonprofits are giving gifts to me.
TechnoServe, The Global Fund for Women, UNCF, and RESIST all sent me return address labels.
Sage not only sent me mailing labels but also cards and envelopes to mail with them.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and the New Israel Fund sent maps. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism sent a list of Jewish holidays that can double as a bookmark.
Doctors Without Borders sent a combination flashlight, pen, and screwdriver,.
And I got reports and newsletters from the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Food Bank, Dignity Matters, and the Somerville Mathematics Fund.
Thanks, you guys! I appreciate the gifts. But…was it really worth it to you?
Pros and Cons of Giving Gifts to Donors
- Getting your mail opened. You can write the ideal appeal letter, and it can all go to waste if the donor never reads it. An envelope that says “Gift enclosed” will pique some donors’ curiosity–especially if it’s a nice thick envelope, promising something inside.
- Creating good will. Nonprofits hope that the warm glow of receiving a gift will put the recipient in the mood to be generous.
- Making your nonprofit visible all year long. Every time I slide that bookmark into a book, or turn on that flashlight, or stick one of those labels onto a piece of mail, I will be reminded of the organization.
- The cost. Even if you get a good deal on printing, adding a bookmark, a map, or stickers raises the cost of the mailing. That means more donations you have to receive before the appeal merely breaks even.
- The relationship. Your nonprofit works so hard to win the trust of your supporters, to make them feel personally noticed, wanted, important. And then you say, “Here’s an item. How much is it worth to you?” You run the risk of cheapening the relationship and losing their loyalty. (Sending newsletters and impact reports strengthens the relationship!)
- The return. Some nonprofits have calculated that the costs of sending gifts to donors are justified by the resulting increase in donations For most nonprofits, however, the returns are small and few–mostly from older people who feel an obligation to send a few bucks. Is it really worth it?
- The alternatives. There are other ways to get people to open your mail, read your letter, and respond.
What could you do instead?
Instead of sending a thick envelope that says “Gift Inside,” you could send an envelope with an urgent message about a person in need. It could be an unusual size. It could use color, or a photo. All those are more compelling than a gift, and cheaper, too!
You could build up to your end-of-year appeal with donor communications all year round. Your communications calendar could include success stories that show the impact of the donor’s gift and make the donor feel like a hero.
You could get them involved in ways that don’t cost them money but strengthen their sense that you are their organization. Volunteering, showing up at rallies, doing policy advocacy…all these activities tie them more closely to your organization and make donating seem like a natural next step.
You could follow up your direct mail appeal with email, phone calls, and text messages. And you could make sure to thank your donors, over and over, in many different ways…because gratitude itself is a gift.