Premiums and Paid Products Spotlight: Fundraising Premiums: What's Working and Why
Easter Seals of Southern Georgia has been producing an annual Christmas ornament for 20 years and sees about a $7.50 profit on each one. The organization has become adept not only at marketing its ornaments for optimum donor engagement, but also in choosing designs supporters want to buy.
The organization offers an array of services to people in more than 60 counties, and each year’s ornament design is chosen to reflect something that resonates with local residents. One year it was the home of a local veteran whose annual Christmas light displays had become a nostalgic part of the town’s celebration; another it was a diner where residents, their parents and their parents’ parents had their first dates; another was an image representing the charm of historic Georgia boulevards.
“We always try to choose something that is nostalgic to the area,” says Rosalyn Kirk, development coordinator at Easter Seals of Southern Georgia. “And something that, when it is hanging on their tree, reminds them that they have helped their community and helped us continue to provide services right in their own community.”
Kirk says a committee of select members chooses the design (often taking into consideration suggestions from the community) each year, then sends its ideas to its partner ChemArt, which turns the concept into reality.
Allison Houle, marketing manager at ChemArt, explains that organizations are best served by choosing their perfect designs first, then allowing their vendor partners to turn those into reality.
“Look at it as a fundraiser first and not as an ornament. Focus on designing something that will generate a lot of interest from your audience. That’s what makes Easter Seals so successful; they come up with an idea that will touch the people they are hoping will buy it,” she says. “To try to think of it off the bat as an ornament can be limiting. If someone comes to us with a concept, we can then go back and tell them how best to design it.”
Kirk says designing the ornament is only the first step in creating a successful fundraiser. Proper and provocative marketing is essential! Easter Seals of Southern Georgia has been producing holiday keepsake ornaments for 20 years, and it has learned a thing or two about promoting them.
The new design is announced each year at the beginning of November, and the organization is very careful about keeping it quiet until then. The secrecy helps build anticipation and keeps people chomping at the bit for the ornaments. Same is true with the local media. The organization has nurtured relationships with TV, radio and print outlets, and has partnered with them for coverage of the big reveal (as well as other Easter Seals events).
Easter Seals of Southern Georgia has been so successful in pinpointing and marketing those designs that resonate with its supporters that its annual ornaments have become a passion for many collectors. When that happens, your collectibles program has struck gold.
You can get the full story on Easter Seals of Southern Georgia’s super-successful holiday ornament program — plus more valuable tips — by downloading the free ChemArt whitepaper, “Utterly Engaging: Engaging Donors With an Annual Ornament Program.” — MBG
Fab Premiums We’ve Seen
Everyone hates premiums. Everyone thinks the only donor worth investing in is a high-value, “quality” donor who “gives because of our fine mission and who we are.” And those everyones make a compelling argument. Even donor focus group participants say they don’t want nonprofits to mail them premiums. But giving behavior tells us donors sure do like them.
I can fill up a storage box with the fundraising mail I receive in about a month, depending on how many oversized and dimensional premium packages I get in addition to notepads, greeting cards, wall calendars and other up-front gifts made of paper.
Over the years, some have been real standouts, like the Christmas stocking personalized with a giant “S,” a personalized weekly planner that looked like a little black book and a beaded bracelet with a metal lobster clasp. From another organization, I received a CD of drum songs performed by children and, later, a handy lens cleaner tissue pack.
One of the biggest challenges with premium programs is the never-ending quest for the new-new thing to replace an offer that inevitably loses its luster over time. Think about it: How many personalized Christmas stockings can one donor possibly need or want? Also factor in how many other organizations catch on and start using your fabulous premium, too, and you’ve raised the bar even higher.
But never lose your sense of humor. As it turns out, a repeatedly mailed premium that does not expire like a calendar does, and one that is not personalized, might be fated to be sold on eBay. A talented young fundraiser I once worked with was addicted to eBay, and she frequently found our client’s lapel pins, plush toys and whatnots up for auction, with one item even being hawked as “in the original packaging!”
The round-trip premium
So, besides cruising the local dollar store and scouring trinket and tchotchke catalogs, what can a fundraiser do for new premium ideas with potentially greater life spans? Consider the round-trip premium: a gift that’s not for donors to keep.
Because I’ve received them more than once as a donor, AdoptaPlatoon’s full-sized toothbrush and an American flag on a stick must be successful premium appeals. However, unlike gifts meant for the donor to keep, these two premiums were to be returned with the donor’s signature and contribution, with the promise that they would be placed in a soldier’s care package.
I’m guessing that round-trip premiums like the toothbrush and American flag had longer shelf lives than many organizations typically see because they can be made into annualized, mission-driven campaigns.
There is one caveat to having donors return premiums to you, however. AdoptaPlatoon used business reply envelopes, so it picked up the tab for postage on returned premiums. If you don’t use a postage-paid return envelope, you’ll want to be sure the “Place Stamp Here” box indicates how much postage the premium requires if more than one First Class stamp.
I also got another interesting item from AdoptaPlatoon: a little box of chewing gum. Although the box of gum showed through a second window on the carrier, rather than being hyped with a “Free Gift” teaser or headline on the letter, the premium was downplayed. It wasn’t mentioned until Page 5 of the letter: “If you liked receiving the small box of gum I enclosed to get your attention, then think of how much more our troops in a war zone appreciate receiving an entire box of goodies from AdoptaPlatoon!”
It struck me a bit like other can’t-quite-throw-it-away items because it was peeking through the window — the kind of premium used to make a point rather than be a gift.
The non-premium premium
Wounded Warrior Project’s acquisition package also used a second window to showcase a mission-based premium that was arguably not a premium: a First Class Purple Heart stamp paper-clipped to the letter/reply.
The copy was a classic, local-area fund drive with several personalization points using my city, state and name — but made even more compelling with the story of Jeremy, a young Army Ranger seriously wounded in Iraq.
The only mention of the premium was in the letter’s headline: “I attached a 42 cent Purple Heart stamp because … wounded troops returning from war urgently need your response to WWP’s [State] Fund Drive now!” Then, on the courtesy reply envelope, a box in the postage area directed, “PLACE YOUR FREE STAMP HERE,” effectively making the Purple Heart stamp a round-trip premium.
But like so many premiums, this one might have been viable for only a limited time. If the U.S. Postal Service had not reissued the Purple Heart stamp for the fifth time as a 44-center following the last postage increase, this package would have been forced into retirement.
Between that and ever-evolving postal regulations and restrictions on mail formats, I think the mailers of dimensional premiums especially are intrepid fundraisers — in spite of what everybody says about “those tacky premiums.” — KS
Kimberly Seville is a creative strategist and nonprofit copywriter. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org