At the recent Nonprofit Technology Conference, I was asked about donor premiums – those return address labels, mugs, etc. given to people in exchange for making a donation. From the research I’ve seen, premiums can work to boost giving in the short term but also create some problems long term, especially if the premiums are positioned as a quid pro quo for a gift and have limited resonance with the cause. (For more on the deleterious effects of premiums, read the Agitator.) So I’m not a huge fan, because the evidence suggests these trinkets crowd out a deeper, lasting and emotional connection with a cause.So what approach might be better? The Agitator post has ideas. Here’s another one, from Mercy Corps. This nonprofit chose to surprise donors with a gift tightly aligned with their cause, AFTER the donors gave. It was rooted in social, not market norms. The gift delighted donors without crowding out their emotional connection to Mercy Corps. It’s an example of excellent cultivation.Annalise Briggs shares the story: “I ordered handmade rams from a beneficiary in Kyrgyzstan named Batina. Batina struggled to feed and support her family, and so Mercy Corps gave her a microcredit loan that allowed her to turn her hobby of sewing into a small business. She can now support her family and send her children to school. I mail the notecard with her story and the below photo and one of the little rams she sews to monthly donors within the first 90 days to help with retention (no ask, no BRE). The response has been overwhelming! We have sustainers writing and calling us all the time to thank us for the wonderful gift. Below is just one of the emails we’ve received…“Thank you for the little wool ram & note card about Batina. It has greatly personalized my sterile, monthly donation made through my credit card… and to remind me of why I’m making a monthly donation. The world just became a little smaller.”As you know, it’s so important to connect supporters with the mission and this is so much better than any random premium or swag. It directly relates to the field work we are doing. With our mission of working in other countries around the world, this connection is even more critical.”This is a great example of what we should do far better in our sector – thank donors and give them a vivid sense of the impact they have on real lives.Pictured: Batina and the ram she sewed. The photos are courtesy of Mercy Corps.
When donor gifts work – and when they don’t