DM Diagnosis: What’s Not to Love?
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.
These days I 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.
Some are real standouts, like the Christmas stocking personalized with a giant "S," a personalized weekly planner that looks 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 are to be returned with the donor's signature and contribution, with the promise that they'll be placed in a soldier's care package.
I'm guessing that round-trip premiums like the toothbrush and American flag have 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 uses business reply envelopes, so it's picking 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'm interested to see what happens with the little box of chewing gum AdoptaPlatoon mailed earlier this year, the first front-end gift I can recall from it to keep for myself. Although the box of gum shows through a second window on the carrier, rather than being hyped with a "Free Gift" teaser or headline on the letter, the premium is downplayed. It's not 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 strikes me a bit like other can't-quite-throw-it-away items because it's peeking through the window — the kind of premium used to make a point rather than be a gift.
The nonpremium premium
Wounded Warrior Project's acquisition package also uses a second window to showcase a mission-based premium that is arguably not a premium: a First Class Purple Heart stamp paper-clipped to the letter/reply.
The copy is 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 is 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 directs, "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." HOOAH!
Kimberly Seville is a creative strategist and freelance copywriter. Reach her at email@example.com