Address Labels, Blankets, Calendars

Yesterday morning, my dad brought in the day’s mail and opened it at the kitchen table.   As he opened each envelope, he looked at the contents and started saying “Nope, they’re not getting anymore money,” and made a pile in front of me.  The pile he made grew larger with each envelope he opened.  The pile was filled with address labels sent from an assortment of nonprofits either asking for their annual gift or soliciting gifts for their cause.  Each set of labels had either misspelled the names of my parents or had the address wrong.  Dad asked me, “Why should I give to a group that doesn’t know me well enough to spell my name correctly or even get my address right?”  I just shook my head, laughed, and agreed with him.  The organizations wasted their time and money sending him something he didn’t want nor could he use.

Later in the day, I met with Ted, a friend since elementary school who is now a local businessman.  We talked about a myriad of subjects including news about family and mutual friends, politics, the state of the world, and finally my involvement in fundraising.  Ted told me about the types of nonprofits he supports and those he doesn’t.  He then asked me, “Why do organizations spend money on things that I don’t want or need to try and get my money for their causes?  I am so sick of groups offering to send me blankets, calendars, and other items when they could be using that money for their programs.  It’s a waste of my donation.”

Far too many nonprofits do this kind of thing and I do not understand why.  Donors don’t want stuff in return for their gifts, especially things they cannot use, like labels with misspellings or incorrect addresses.  They don’t want poorly made blankets or bags made in third world countries with your logo on them.  They don’t want pens, pencils, or coffee mugs in exchange for their gifts.  Receiving something in return for their money is not showing appreciation, it is a transaction.  It turns off most of the donors that I know.  Believe me, I ask people for their opinions.

What donors want is to know that their gift is being used wisely.  They want an earnest and personal thank you for their support.  They want to know how you used their donation to grant a sick child’s wish or to feed a homeless family or to create a sanctuary for an endangered species.  They want to be informed about your organization’s successes and find out what more they can do to help your organization’s efforts without constantly being asked for more money.  Sending them an annual packet of labels with misspelled names along with the annual request for more money does not do that.

I recommend, or should I say that my father and my friend, Ted, recommend that organizations stop wasting money on printing labels or buying other premiums to send their supporters, and put more effort into giving their donors what they want:  A real partnership that will be strengthened with true appreciation and personalized communication.



About greatergoodfundraising

Richard Freedlund has been active in the nonprofit sector in a number of ways, both professionally and as a volunteer. He is the founder of Greater Good Fundraising, a business that helps schools and organizations raise money for their programs while accomplishing something positive for the community. After living in Oregon for 27 years, he has returned to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois and hopes to make his mark on the nonprofit sector there. He is the father of a talented jazz musician and the son of philanthropic parents that continue to support multiple causes. To contact Richard for consulting, fundraising, or speaking opportunities, email or reach him on @ggfundraise
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2 Responses to Address Labels, Blankets, Calendars

  1. Richard, I must confess that it’s been years since I was provided with address labels, and I’ve never been offered a blanket for my donation. However, I fully appreciate your point. “Premiums,” as they’re called, are designed to stimulate impulse donations. Not surprisingly, that’s what they generate. Appeals that use premiums are not designed to build relationships. They are not designed to secure lasting donors. Instead, they wonderfully demonstrate the difference between fundraising and development. Sadly, they’re also part of the reason that donor retention rates are so low. And that’s when the premiums are of reasonable quality. Unfortunately, many nonprofits use poor quality premiums, as you’ve described. I remember a PBS client I had a number of years ago that gave me one of their member umbrellas. I thought it was very nice of them. That is, until it rained. One day I was on my way to a meeting when a downpour started. Lucky for me, I had my brand new PBS umbrella. Disappointingly, when I opened the umbrella, it exploded. Just from opening it, the umbrella completely disintegrated. I got wet. I wonder how many transactional donors that PBS station lost from members who also got unexpectedly soaked. For fundraising purposes, I’m not a huge fan of premiums. But, if a nonprofit is going to use them, they should only use high-quality premiums that show respect for donors.

  2. The Wall Street Journal just published an article about a study done at Yale that indicates donors give less to organizations that give gifts to those who donate. All they had to do is read my blog.

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