Having Fun with Donor Incentives

Posted on 12/02/2018

Offering small token gifts to donors is a familiar strategy for annual giving programs. Aside from serving as a way to say thank you, little “tchotchkes” can help keep an institution top-of-mind in their daily lives. Equally important, they can also function as an incentive for donors by providing them with something tangible in return for their support. But some of the more common tactics—like calendars, address labels, and car decals—can get old year after year.

American University (AU) recently found a way to introduce a little fun and humor into their fiscal year-end solicitations by launching a more creative incentive campaign. During the month of June, alumni, faculty/staff members, and parents received appeals offering a pair of AU-branded socks for donors who made gifts of $35 or more.

The team used lighthearted messaging that played up clever sock humor, proclaiming to recipients that “You + AU = The Perfect Pair.” Puns were injected throughout the appeals, inviting donors to “put [their] best foot forward” and “show [they] were head over heels for AU” by making a gift. Though the appeal was sent by the central annual giving program, donors were encouraged to support any area that “knocks their socks off.” The campaign was promoted primarily through less expensive digital channels, including targeted emails, paid social media posts, and pop-up advertisements on high-traffic websites. Donors were directed to a campaign landing page where they could learn more about the offer and make their donation.

The sock campaign was a big success, generating 141 gifts and nearly $40,000 in revenue. According to Katelynd Anderson, associate director of annual giving at AU, nearly half of these gifts came from young alumni, which is typically an underperforming group. The campaign was also a great tool for acquiring new donors and reactivating lapsed donors, with nearly half of the respondents falling into one of these two categories. And while many of the gifts (especially those from new and younger donors) were at or around the $35 threshold, it helped generate higher gift amounts as well as leadership donors. In fact, the average gift was a higher-than-average $278.

From address labels to tech tags, donor incentives should be used strategically to drive results and thank loyal donors. These incentives—and the campaigns that promote them—can leverage fun and humor to catch the attention of your audience and engage your constituents in a new way. So get creative and put your best foot forward; you might just find yourself floored by the results.


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