Premiums and Paid Products Spotlight: The Top 10 Premiums for 2013
Nonprofit mail and premiums have teamed up successfully for decades, kind of like Tango and Cash — except that donors often will only give “cash” if the nonprofit will “tango” by offering a quality, soon-to-be-appreciated gift or “premium.”
(Note that I’m not speaking about “freemiums,” which are free gifts inside the mail piece, such as address labels or a bookmark. Instead, this is a discussion on the promised gift to arrive in the mail after a donation has been given.)
“Our donors are smarter than that … more so, they’re above that,” you may counter. But as any direct marketer can tell you, human behavior is a funny and predictable thing. The reciprocity principle, first of all, plays a significant role here. As Wikipedia declares, it’s “responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions.”
“You’re offering me a stuffed animal if I give you $30? Game on.”
Of course, not everyone agrees that premiums are the way to go. Fundraising expert Roger Craver recently declared in The Agitator that “every direct response fundraiser who can count eventually comes to the realization that reliance on premiums to boost short-term acquisition response rates is a long-term prescription for poor retention and lousy lifetime value.”
Roger is not exactly shy in his pronouncements. For example, he equated premiums to “crack cocaine” in this screaming headline.
A debate in the comments sections soon ensued, led by a fellow from Australia who said, “many orgs are having a lot of success in getting premium recruited donors to commence a monthly gift very quickly after 1st gift.” Another mentioned that there’s a big difference between a bad premium and a good one.
So, who’s mailing what?
All that being said, let’s dive into the data from Who’s Mailing What! In other words, let’s look at what’s really happening. Who’s Mailing What! is the most complete library of direct mail and e-mail in the world and tracks more fundraising mail than any other database.
Comparing the first quarter of 2013 to 2012 and 2011 reveals some interesting trends right away. In 2011, 17.5 percent of fundraising mail used premiums. That sank by 6 percent in 2012, to 16.4 percent, before climbing to 22.2 percent in 2013 — that represents an overwhelming 35 percent growth in the first quarter of this year.
In other words, nonprofits are speaking out in favor of premiums in 2013, so they must be working.
Our hunch at Who’s Mailing What! is that premiums have made a comeback in part because fundraisers have begun to offer more relevant premiums that donors not only appreciate, but even want.
Getting back to that reciprocity principle, its true application is when there’s an equal balance on both sides — nonprofits want the gifts (donations) and donors want the gifts (the premiums). No longer are premiums simple throw-ins that a donor may think are cool or cute. Instead, it’s often something that is truly useful in a donor’s day-to-day life as well as connects the donor to the cause in a tangible way.
When you glance at that list of top premiums in 2013, immediately you notice that these are relevant, useful gifts. The most common premium in 2013 is a book! (So much for not treating the donor with intelligence.) For example, the Union of Concerned Scientists offers the book “The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices” to prospective donors, which serves to connect them more deeply to the cause as well as offer useful information.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund offers the book “Dreams Unfulfilled: Stories of the Men and Women on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial” for any gift more than $20. Again, that’s a genuine connection between the nonprofit and the donor that can have a lasting, beneficial effect.
The second most used premium in 2013 is the tote bag, a workhorse premium that never seems to fatigue for fundraisers. It ranked No. 1 in 2012.
In third, after climbing from fifth in 2012, is the water bottle. Nonprofits have found that metal water bottles also prove to be useful for donors, especially those with families. In addition, they offer a solid branding opportunity and again help bond the donor with the nonprofit.
Food & Water Watch gives its “sleek and stylish water bottle” made with “high-grade stainless steel” to those donors who give $35 or more. In the buckslip promoting the premium, it goes to great lengths to discuss its relevancy for both the donor and for the nonprofit’s anti-fracking campaign: “This bottle features the distinctive logo of our ‘Take Back the Tap’ water safety campaign,” and this bottle “is a healthier, money-saving alternative to petroleum-based plastic bottles.”
The rest of the list
Examine the remainder of the list, and you reach the same conclusions: These are practical gifts that people actually want, plus they can further cement that relationship between donor and organization. Travel bags, blankets, umbrellas and windbreakers are all valuable, useful gifts for nearly every person — and they give the nonprofit ample landscape to “brand” each one for a potentially wider audience.
Certificates, calendars and greeting cards are also useful gifts that donors not only can use or display in their homes, but also serve as a constant visual reminder of their connection to the nonprofit.
Notice the conspicuous absence of the plush toy or the T-shirt, both of which used to be fundraising premium staples. Instead, here are some other honorable mentions: tree seeds, CD, pedometer, exhibit passes, cooler, DVD, flash drive and tool kit.
Yes, these 2013 premiums are not the frivolous, package-stuffing premiums of yesteryear.
Ethan Boldt is chief content officer at Direct Marketing IQ. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org