Rethinking Donor Thank You Gifts

Project 365 #263: 200911 Kept Under Wraps...

Image by comedy_nose via Flickr

You love your donors, right?  You can’t do your work without their support and you want to make sure they know it.  It’s only natural that you’d like to show your appreciation in a tangible way.

The spirit of that desire is absolutely appropriate, and yet. . .

Will you ever use all the address labels you’ve been sent by nonprofit organizations hoping to woo you onto their donor list?  Do you need the pocket change some organizations send trying to guilt you into a gift?

Even when the gifts are not total crap–do they do what they are meant to do?  Does your collection of $100 tote bags make you feel like an NPR insider?

I didn’t think so.

On the Other Hand. . .

I’m not suggesting giving donors tangible gifts never works.  We are a consumer driven society full of basically selfish people.  We like free stuff so much we are happy to pay for it*.

Donor gifts that are useful and valuable help donors remember how much they love an organization between annual campaigns; well designed, wearable gifts can even help donors spread your key messages to the world.

The problem is, these more valuable gifts can be expensive, and spending too much money on them is good way to be found guilty of wasteful spending in the  court of public opinion.

Plus, as relationship builders, these “one size fits all” gifts are not very effective.

Luckily, there is another option.

Try this instead:  Give Donors the Gift of Access

Seminar stage door 9 November 2011 n12

Image by jastrow75 via Flickr

Most people support your organization because they love the work you are doing and want to be a part of it–so the best way to thank them is to give them a backstage pass.  By letting your donors as far into the actual workings of the organization as is possible, you give them what they really want–a chance to know they are making a difference.

Instead of throwing a traditional donor’s reception, hold a semi-open rehearsal just for donors.  Then host a party after where donors can mingle with the artists whose work they are making possible.

The same idea applies outside the performing arts.  Create opportunities for your donors to meet the people they are helping.  Let them see the faces and hear the stories of the people whose lives will never be the same because of their generosity.

This idea works even if you don’t work for a nonprofit organization.  If you’ve got an idea you want to get off the ground, the best way to start building the momentum you need it to offer ways for your backers to immerse themselves in the project.  Not buying it?  Browse through Kickstarter’s most promising projects.  The rewards at the highest levels almost always include a unique experience.

Don’t Fake It

Please note that I advised “letting people as far into your organization/work “as is possible“–not “as is comfortable.” This concept isn’t too difficult for individuals looking to grow their tribes, or even for new organizations that were formed under the “networked nonprofit” model.  But for old or large organizations used to working under a “give us your money and trust us to do what’s best” paradigm giving donors access is easy to say and hard to do. It is however, worth the extra effort

Need a Bit more Motivation?

Thanking donors with insider experiences instead of physical gifts provides more value to the donor, (which can mean larger gifts in the future),  but it also has another organizational benefit:  Some of the best donor experiences cost you almost nothing.

Your turn:  Share your stories

It’s time to dish!  Tell us about the worst donor gift you’ve received, or the one you are embarrassed to have sent.

Good stories are also welcome, so if you’ve been wowed by a donor experience (or have wowed your donors) share the details in the comment section.

*This statement is bordering on a Yogi-ism, but it’s too true to edit.

5 thoughts on “Rethinking Donor Thank You Gifts

  1. I love the idea of providing access to donors. It’s much better than something like mailing labels, which I feel donors have mixed feelings on.

    However, there can be big difficulties in providing access to social service organizations. There’s client confidentiality, and not wanting individuals to feel like they’re in a zoo. The donors love seeing their money at work though, in my experience.

  2. I find that labels and things like that don’t motivate me to give although I do use them (is that wrong?) If an org is going to give me something, I like it to be a thank you after I make a donation. I’ve gotten a world map, small posters which I have up on my bulletin board or fridge and a small doggie blanket was a big hit with my granddogs when they came to visit. The idea of access is a good one….easier for arts orgs probably.

  3. Megan and Joanne– Thanks for your thoughtful comments and for pointing out that there is an additional level of work to be done for social services agencies (although to be honest, artists don’t appreciate that zoo like feeling either.) I think the key is to create opportunities where donors and clients (and/or staff members) can meet as equals. A gathering of like minded people working together toward a cause that is important to everyone in the room feels much different than parading success stories in front of people who write big checks. It’s not easy, and their is no one-size-fits-all solution, but when you find the experience that works well for your unique organization, the extra effort is worth it.

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