Incorporating Incentives Into Appeals

Posted on 07/01/2020

Using special incentives like address labels, bumper stickers, and socks to entice donors to give can offer a real boost to your fundraising efforts. They can be especially effective to those who are trying to acquire new donors for the first time or reactivate donors who have lapsed in their giving for a significant period of time. 

Donor incentives work for a number of reasons. To start, they make your appeals stand out from others. Advertising a “free gift” on the outer envelope of your direct mail piece or in the subject line of an email can increase open rates. In fundraising, getting a prospective donor to “look inside” is half the battle. 

Incentives also offer donors additional motivation to take action. Most donors give because they want to help make a difference in something they care about, but offering them a little something extra can often tip the scale in their decision to make a gift. What’s more, people inherently love a good deal. Consumer marketers have figured this out, using coupons and sales frequently. In fundraising, premiums or token gifts can encourage donors in much the same way.

There isn’t just one way to employ incentives in fundraising. There’s a multitude of different gift types ranging in price and quality, as well as a variety of strategies and methods for incorporating them into your appeals. In recent months, many institutions have made face masks part of their appeals as an opportunity to generate more donor support while offering something of value to their constituents.

  • During Boston University’s #TerriersTogether campaign, donors who made gifts of $25 or more to one of four COVID-related funds received a BU-themed mask as a token of appreciation. 
  • The University of Central Florida recently helped promote an alumni-owned business that sells UCF-themed face coverings, with a portion of each purchase being given to student assistance funds at the university.
  • UMass Lowell launched a social media campaign through which donors of $20 or more received a university-branded face mask, while also generating additional support for a local nonprofit. 

Although incentives can be an effective way to entice donors in the short term, beware! They’re not necessarily a very good long-term strategy. If sustainable support is what you seek (and it should be!), there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned donor stewardship. Let your donors know that you care about them and that their gifts are making a difference. When you do, your campaigns will get stronger each and every year that goes by.


This article has been adapted from the book Ideas for Annual Giving by Dan Allenby. Copyright (c) 2016 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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