We’ve had an incredibly hot summer here in Ottawa. In fact, most of us have found it too hot to spend a whole lot of time outdoors. With the A/C on blast, many of us have taken to indoor projects. For me, that’s meant finally tackling the mountain of charitable mailing samples and donor premiums (small thank you gifts) that have been beckoning for months.

As I sorted and stacked, it dawned on me that the ‘premiums’ that some nonprofit organizations choose to send these days are kind of meaningless. I struggle to connect the flowered pen and notepad with the organization that provides a safe and loving home for animals. The tote bag and magnet I received in an oversized cardboard envelope seems wasteful.

When did these charities decide that ALL premiums were good premiums? When did a cheaply produced pen, magnifying glass or set of address labels with ZERO branding replace the beautiful cause-related calendar I used to receive every fall?

It seems many charitable organizations have fallen into the trap of sending premiums to try and encourage donations. And while these have proved successful in past, the reality is that today’s donor is less likely to be guilted into making a donation. Rather, today’s donor wants to know that their donations are actually making a difference (read: that their hard-earned dollars are supporting your mission). They’re concerned with admin costs, and your gifts, although perhaps well-intentioned, are likely having an adverse effect on their giving. (These gifts can actually erode trust not only of your charitable organization, but of the sector as a whole. Many donors are tired of receiving what they perceive as “junk”.)

Can I let you in on a little secret? Most donors would likely give more to your cause if they saw more in the way of results.

Want to know another secret? Premiums can work. The trick is to be strategic about what you send, who you send to, and how you’ll retain these donors. Yep, premium-acquired donors are tricky and retaining them can be challenging.

If you’re going to send a small gift to donors to thank them for their loyalty, here’s a list of do’s and don’ts:


  • Make sure that what you’re sending is purposeful. Think calendar, bookmark or post-it notes.
  • Make sure that what you choose aligns with your charity’s brand. A calendar is a great fit for an organization that helps protect lands or endangered species because they can actually SHOW donors how they’re making a difference.
  • Ask your donors if they want to receive these gifts, that way you can segment donors for future ‘no premium’ mailings.
  • Consider inviting donors to make a donation BEFORE receiving a gift (this is called a back-end premium), and give them the opportunity to opt-out if they aren’t interested. 


  • Send premium packages that include everything but the kitchen sink. We’ve all received these mailings that include a little bit of everything, with little thought put into how these gifts will actually be used or whether or not these items will help create/increase brand awareness.
  • Leave off your organization’s logo and name. If you’re going to send these items, you should be proud to display your logo and invite donors to help spread the word about the work you’re doing by using these purposeful items in their day-to-day.
  • Look for local suppliers who can produce high-value, low-cost premiums. This can help to significantly reduce production time and keeps the money in the pockets of local suppliers.

Have you consistently used premium packages to inspire support? Are you trying to get away from sending these? Drop me a line…I’d love to hear about your experience.

This post was written by Heather Brown, former Philanthropic Counsel at Good Works and fundraiser extraordinaire.