Nonprofit Branding: Fundraising Premiums & Contributor Incentives – The Secret Sauce


Success and Failure Green Road Sign with dramatic blue sky and clouds.There is a Secret Sauce to using fundraising premiums effectively. We’ll give you the recipe here. But first –  let’s look at definitions of success & failure.

  • A premium is a failure if it fails to pay for itself, …if it disappoints the contributor, …if it doesn’t get used, …if it fails to effectively assert your organization’s identity and mission.
  • A premium is a success if it pays for itself, reinforces your contributor’s affinity for the organization…. and serves as a free marketing tool by promoting your mission and identity to others and with no additional cost to you.
  • A premium is a great success if it does the above…. and generates additional gift renewal and upgrade revenue you would not otherwise receive.

The premium is merely a product. It becomes a desirable contribution incentive because you (YOU!) create and then effectively communicate its relationship with your organization. Your goal is to achieve what marketing people call “perceived value.” Here is the definition from our GLOSSARY, which you can access through the tab at the top of this page:

Perceived Value – perceived value is the worth someone assigns to an item because of its appeal or other intangible characteristic not related to its cost. A nonprofit’s logo carefully applied to appropriate merchandise can create an item whose perceived value to supporters greatly exceeds its monetary worth. The enhanced (perceived) value is derived from association with a preferred cause or mission and has enormous implications for nonprofit marketing.

(You will find examples of common ways to create Perceived Value after the Upside and Limitations comments below.)


Recipe for the Secret Sauce 

Ingredients:   one each of the following –  An inexpensive, durable and  useful product of good quality….An Vintage herb woman reading recipeattractive logo or other graphic….A high-quality imprint house….A boatload of creativity and marketing sense.

Process:   mix the ingredients in the following sequence.

  • Step One:  Select classy graphics that announce your organization and your mission. This may mean enhancing the drab, over-used logo you have been meaning to upgrade – perhaps with a cutline or a color-block background.
  • Step Two: Find a reputable imprint house that does not cut corners
  • Step Three: Have that graphic applied to the useful product using  screen-printing, embossing, debossing, embroidery or sublimation.  
  • Step Four: Control the outcome. Insist on approval rights of a pre-production prototype before you OK the full production run. 
  • Step Five: Message your core constituency. Emphasize the way the branding product represents your organization. Explain that is is available ONLY to contributors. Do this with enthusiasm, with clarity and with frequency – always emphasizing that ownership of the premium is an exclusive demonstration of association with your organization.

Step five is at least as important as the other steps! The goal is to make your supporters realize that using a premium with your logo is a public demonstration of affinity for your brand and your mission. In essence,what’s really happening is this:  you transformed a common item into one with perceived value for your supporters, an item that spotlights their affiliation with your cause.


Marketing and strategyIn every marketing process there are downsides, limitations and effective hooks. The following conditions will affect how well you use the recipe.

UPSIDE: Logo-imprinted branding products are powerful marketing tools. Nonprofits are the biggest users, annually investing between $3 billion and $4 billion in these marketing tools. When properly presented as fundraising premiums they have helped finance nonprofit missions in all areas of the public service sector.

LIMITATION: Well presented premiums have a laudable track record as incentives for renewals and gift upgrades. But evidence in the public radio community suggests they will have less success in generating new contributions and new memberships.  So, until we learn otherwise, we urge nonprofits that use mission-related branding products as contributor premiums offered primarily to current and recent supporters as incentives for renewals and upgrades .

HOOKS: Following are examples of ways to make your premium even more compelling – so it will be more likely to attract contributions you would not otherwise receive:

Authenticity …..imprinted with the logo of a great environmental organization, the stainless steel insulated water bottle,becomes a fundraising premium – provided you inform potential contributors the same water bottle is carried by members of the field staff as they fulfill the organization’s scientific mission out in the wilderness.

Uniqueness  ….. the special fundraiser to replace the storm-damaged TV tower became easier when each contributor received a transparent Lucite paperweight with a fragment of the destroyed tower embedded in it.

Another Authenticity example….around 1990 the tote bag, sized and custom fabricated to carry a specific professional cassette recorder plus accessories, became a powerful premium. Why? Because we added a label that confirmed its provenance. The label said: “AUTHENTIC NPR REPORTER’S BAG – Carried by National Public Radio journalists throughout the world.”

Community Interaction …..very powerful nonprofit premiums can be made from an EyeMax Mug or common T-shirt when the graphic is designed by a supporter of the nonprofit, represents the nonprofit’s mission and is available only to those who contribute.  (The NPR program Car Talk held contests in which listeners designed the next season’s featured premium T-shirt.  This version, called the Sistine Wrench, won a few years ago, became Car Talk’s best selling shirt and helped stations raise millions of dollars.)

Exclusivity…..the nonprofit will introduce its new logo to the public in January. So, in an October fundraising solicitation a premium with the new graphic is available ONLY to members of the contributor in-group, who will then happily debut the new identity badge before it is available to outsiders.

Upgrade.….it’s often tough to make a retail product attract contributions because they are commodities on Amazon and elsewhere. But the book by your organization’s founder or luminary, even though sold at bookstores, becomes a premium when it has bonus material like a book-plate autographed by the author or an exclusive CD insert.

Premiums help nonprofits raise hundreds of millions of dollars. You can use them, too. Understand perceived value. Follow the recipe. Add hooks that increase the relationship between the premium and your mission. Market the hell out of it. And keep good records so you can make better use of premiums in your next fundraising drive. If you need advice or additional information, review earlier posts in the Nonprofit Branding Blog, subscribe to the blog so you receive the new info as it becomes available and/or call the VisABILITY staff at 303-823-0327 .  


2 thoughts on “Nonprofit Branding: Fundraising Premiums & Contributor Incentives – The Secret Sauce

  1. Thanks for this post – lots of nonprofit managers know that some people need incentives to give, but it’s important to know how to find the best balance between enticing potential donors and good branding.

  2. Pingback: Fundraising Premiums: Boost or Burden? | Nonprofit Branding Blog

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