The Give and Take of Premium Mailings
“The large print giveth and the small print taketh away.”
— Tom Waits
There’s this economics professor, a pretty cynical guy, who sometimes starts his classes by inviting a student up to the front of the room. He holds out a dollar bill and says, “Here, take this.” The student reaches out and the professor immediately snatches the dollar back. Then he holds it out again, the student reaches again, and again he snatches the dollar back.
After repeating this three or four times, the student gives up, annoyed and somewhat embarrassed. The professor turns to the class and says, “That, ladies and gentlemen, is capitalism in a nutshell. It’s all you need to know about how our economic system works.” Everyone laughs and the student sits down more uncomfortable than ever.
Then the professor balls up the dollar bill and, after a few seconds of dramatic pause, tosses it on the student’s desk. With an air of irritated exasperation he says, “Okaaay, you can have it.”
After a moment or two he turns back to the student and says, “Now think about it: Which made you happier? Getting the dollar or the promise of getting the dollar?”
This is the dilemma of premiums in direct-mail fundraising. The promise of the premium is always exciting. For a relatively small investment, it seems, you can reasonably predict that significantly more people will respond to your mailing, if you include a little present for them.
The long-term return on the premium is something else again. When you start seeing the results of your premium test versus your non -premium mailing, you might be pretty happy. You might see that your premium, front end or back end, did, in fact, outperform your non-premium control.
But then it happens. A year passes. Now you’ve got to renew all those premium donors. And it won’t take long to figure out that if you had to give them a premium to make their first gift, you’re almost certainly going to have to give them another one to renew them.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.