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It’s Not About the Mug!

by: Jeffrey Stein on

Quid pro quo.  Tit for Tat.  You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours...Seems like anyway you say it, it still sounds dirty, unseemly, and definitely beneath the philanthropically well-intentioned and the esteemed organizations they would support.  

Like it or not, it’s how things get done.  And it’s not limited to politics, international business, or clandestine transactions.  A compelling offer is at the core of all human interaction.  "You want me to do something for you – what’s in it for me?"

Fundraising is no exception.  We see it all the time.  Subscribe to your local PBS station – they’ll send you a boxed set of Downton Abbey DVDs, or a mug that proudly claims "it's not about the mug."  Pay your alumni dues – an alumni association window decal is on its way.  Heck, just open the solicitation envelope from St. Jude and a life-time supply of return address labels are yours – even if you don’t make a gift (but how could you not?).

So why so much cringing and hand-wringing when it comes to including an offer in our planned giving solicitations?  We want our donors to respond, but the reasons we give them for doing so are totally lame. Let’s get real.  "More information" and "Our Free Estate Planning Guide" are not offers that show our appreciation for their inquiry. They aren’t offers at all.  They’re HOMEWORK.  And who wants more homework?

Planned giving lead-generation campaigns that include a compelling offer get measurably better results than those that do not.  And to anyone concerned about the cost and perceived value of the gift, here’s some great news: It’s not about the mug!  As trite as it may sound, it’s the thought that counts.  Sure, we’ve worked with organizations to create special promotional materials for the legacy societies – a nice touch.  But before you go blowing the budget on new tchotchkes, look in the corner of the prize closet or ask the bookstore if they have any discontinued items in the stock room.  You’d be amazed at what you have lying around and even more amazed how appreciative your donors will be to receive something that everyone in the office had written off as junk.  Swag not your thing?  That’s okay.  Consider invitations to events, a speakers’ series, or docents tour you host, recordings of your band’s or orchestra’s performances, or commemorative books about the history of your organization.  

Your token gift of thanks in exchange for a loyal donor raising their hand to answer a few questions about their most personal philanthropic inclinations doesn’t cheapen their gift.  It demonstrates your understanding of the social norm and facilitates a conversation between you and your donor.  You’ve asked them to become a lead.  They’ve consented to tell you what they’re thinking.  You thank them with a small gift.  You’re fulfilling a social contract.  It shows that you appreciate them as a donor and it builds trust.

To learn how Yellowstone Park Foundation used a compelling offer to achieve a 34% response rate (that's not a typo) to their planned giving marketing outreach, visit our case study page

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