Nonprofits Tighten the Belt on Premiums
Last year in Inside Direct Mail, we wrote that the nonprofit sector was experiencing a “pretty big downturn in premium use.” Not only were total numbers down, but so was the variety of premium types being offered. Indeed, nonprofit premiums had an undeniable presence in both the 2003 and 2004 calendar years. However, after doing some research in our Who’s Mailing What! Archive, it became clear that the premium’s grip on the sector was beginning to slip, with 23.1 percent of nonprofit mail including a premium offer in 2003 and 16.7 percent in 2004.
Perhaps because of budget constraints and more conservative direct-mail strategies, support for premium usage in the nonprofit sector continued to erode, and at a rapid pace. The calendar year of 2005 saw premium usage among nonprofit mail shrink to 12.5 percent and, among total premiums, the percentage was practically sliced in two — leveling out at a measly 8.7 percent. The next year had almost as bleak an outlook, with only 12.3 percent of nonprofit mail including a premium and 9.3 percent of total premiums coming from the nonprofit sector. All this was occurring while premium use surged in the mailstream as a whole, from representing only 11.9 percent of the total mail in 2003 to 19.3 percent in 2006.
There were few new premium players in our most recent batch of mail, this past May. Not coincidentally, the types of premiums offered tended to be less diverse as well, as nearly a quarter were tote bags and almost 20 percent were books.
The only surprise came from freemium offerings, the percentage points of which hovered in the 20s for nonprofit mail in April for each of the past three years; however, in April 2007, the figure jumped to 54.7 percent, perhaps trying to make up for fewer premium offers?
The donor card from the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation — a U.S. nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the government’s war on marijuana users — appears ordinary and premiumless, until the prospect flips it over. There, many potential premiums await, depending on the gift level. Its newsletter can be had for $25 or more, and a choice of one of six premiums (including four T-shirts with messages from the MPP and two MPP booklets) is given for $40 or more. If a donor gives $250 or more, she will receive a compilation DVD featuring media coverage from MPP’s campaign last year.
On the far other side of the political landscape, or universe, is an effort from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation, which also has many premiums in mind for the prospect. Those premiums are hinted at on the No. 14 outer envelope, with the words, “Now you can share President Reagan’s dream of bringing the Air Force One experience to the American people. Please respond in the next 7 days for your souvenir.”
On a foldout contribution reply card, several premium options are given, including a $40 donation that garners an Air Force One baseball cap, $75 for two caps, $105 for a book about Air Force One plus the two caps, and $2,740 for all the above plus a “private, escorted tour” of The Reagan Museum and — hold your breath — a professional photograph of the donor boarding Air Force One.
For some prospects, of course, a mere calendar or tote bag is enough to encourage donations. Such is the case with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which offers a calendar premium for a gift of at least $10 — a popular tactic used by the nonprofit since 1998. The public TV channel Thirteen WNET New York has been handing out tote bags to donors for years, but now, next to the tote bag checkbox is another checkbox for those who would rather their “entire contribution [go towards] programming.” Earthjustice follows the same tact, providing an adjacent checkbox for donors who want “100%” of their gift to go “toward the work of Earthjustice.”
The Nature Conservancy switched from a regular tote bag to a heavy-duty, multipocket garden tote bag at the end of 2005. Apparently, the switch was successful, for a year and a half later, the nonprofit’s current effort announces the “Karner Blue Butterfly Garden Totebag” is “FREE” on the outer. It turns out the bag is offered for a gift of $10 or more, and the branding butterfly appears not only on the bag, but throughout the mailing as well as on the freemium personal labels.
Lastly, after a steady stream of tote bags for years, the National Parks Conservation Association began tinkering with its premiums, offering such items as stuffed animals and fleece blankets. Its current mailing went with a bucket hat for a gift of $15 or more.
This article originally appeared in the September issue of Inside Direct Mail. www.insidedirectmail.com