Every year, development pros are faced with a dilemma: What kind of gifts should we send to donors to show our appreciation? Some gifts seem like naturals – calendars, paper weights, pen sets, water bottles, a bill cap, etc.
The question is, will these gifts genuinely strengthen the bond of donors to the causes they support? It’s not easy to think of thoughtful gifts your donors will appreciate.
When considering the best gift selections for donors, you must consider:
- Does the gift have utility?
- Does the gift align with the donor’s core values and interests?
- Does the gift evoke emotion?
- Does the gift hold intangible value?
- Does the gift open the door for future engagement?
- Does the gift establish opportunities for a continuity gift program?
- Is the gift unique?
A gift, whether a novelty item or a keepsake, does not need to have all these attributes. Just a few will do … but make sure it does!
Too often, gift decisions take the path of least resistance without consideration of the above criteria.
Novelty organizations bombard non-profits with catalogues featuring a product selection that has been presented for decades. Some may choose a custom mug, prepackaged steaks, a reusable canvas bag, or other common gifts that are given far too often by non-profits. While marginally appreciated, the donor subliminally recognizes that not much thought was given to the gift, in return for their philanthropic generosity, support, volunteerism.
An example of a gift which meets the gifting criteria for non-profits was used by a museum that created a continuity program of giving “collectible” bundle packs of nostalgic postcards that matched the museum’s theme. These cards were printed over 30 years ago but were in pristine condition with many selling on eBay for over $10 each!
Unlike generic gifts chosen from a catalogue, these cards were unique and created an emotional connection with donors who would reflect on memories of their summer family vacations where they would send friends, teachers, and relatives a “wish you were here” handwritten note.
Each year during annual fund drives, the museum’s fundraisers would often hear donors requesting a new set of cards – a conversation starter leading to pledges of continuing financial support.
The beauty of this gift program was that postcards can cut through the insincerity of today’s world and can be passed from generation to generation while making an emotional connection along the way. We love this idea so much that we decided to carry it as a product for our clients.
Another gift I was personally involved in developing was a very intricate box enclosed with a 30-foot scroll of thank you letters from hundreds of students. This was a high-ticket item, but then it was for Walter Annenberg who had supported The Wharton School at Penn for years. Two years later, St. Joseph’s University and Villanova University repeated the same idea for their high-end donors.
But getting back to the affordable, separate the idea of a premium (a gift to conference attendees or annual donors) and a genuinely personalized gift to a major donor.
Here are some other ideas for unique thank-you gifts:
- A branded thumb drive (good as a premium or for annual fund donors)
- A one-of-a-kind piece of pottery (Etsy is a great resource)
- A batik silk scarf in her favorite colors
- A bottle of 35-year-old single malt Scotch for the Scotch lover
- A fine cigar (for the cigar aficionado)
- A canvas print of a building, landmark, or people impacted by the gift
- A customized photo book showing their involvement and impact
- A delicious custom-made goodie for the donor with a sweet tooth (my favorite is tiramisu!)
You’ll notice that with the exclusion of the thumb drive, all these gifts require thought and a genuine knowing of your donors:
- What do they like?
- What are they passionate about?
- What are their hobbies?
Answering some of those questions will help provide guidance as to what gift would be best. This takes more thought and time than perusing the catalog of a novelty company, but it’s time well spent.
Personally, I don’t want another paperweight, it just makes my trashcan heavier. But if someone brought me the best baklava money can buy, that would go in my belly quickly — and be greatly appreciated.