3 Trinket Defenses
The long-running debate about the value of premiums is popping up again, as it tends to do now and then. Do they hurt more than they help? Are they ever a good idea?
It's certainly true that offering premiums in return for donations is nothing more than a fairly ham-fisted form of bribery. It essentially says to the donor, "I don't think I can make a strong enough case for my organization's work to win your support out of passion or principle. So I'll offer you this little gift to buy your loyalty and hope you learn to love me as time goes by."
There's some short-term gain with that proposition. But loyalty, renewability and lifetime value are something else again.
If you have to bring people in with gifts, it's a lot more likely you'll have to keep giving them gifts to renew them.
But does that mean premiums are always a bad idea?
Here are three times (among others) it still might make sense to offer the trinket:
- You're already using them. If your donors are already premium-conditioned, you run the risk of losing them altogether if you stop cold turkey. Better to wean them off gradually, by offering less expensive gifts and, at the same time, ramping up your creative to be more urgent and emotional.
- You're an association. Some membership organizations make significant income on annual dues. Other mailings, if any, are extra revenue. The motivations for loyalty in associations are different too. So if you have to send the annual note pad or metal badge to keep renewals high, there's less downside than for the typical nonprofit.
- You need to get your numbers up. There are times when a premium mailing can be like a stimulus package. For example, the donor file has deteriorated to the point that you just have to bring in more donors, fast. The thing to do in this case is to start planning your renewal strategy right away. Make sure you have a very strong, mission-based campaign to start mailing very soon after your new donors get their shiny objects.
The inconvenient truth is that the question of premiums is seldom an either/or proposition. There are times they can have value — just make sure that when you open that door, you go in with both eyes open.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 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, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.