Nonprofit Branding: Does Your Fundraising Use Bad Language?

To support their mission, most nonprofits attempt to harness pride of association. Many or most use basic fundraising tools, including logo-imprinted contributor premiums.

Premiums are effective because supporters want to flaunt the logo of their preferred public service organizations.  This is a form of self-branding.

FUNDAMENTAL PREMISE: Premiums are tricky to use. They are not gratuities! They are not gifts. Don’t think of them that way. Don’t refer to them that way. Don’t use them that way.

To be successful with premiums, you must understand what you are doing. And then do it effectively.

PROBLEM:  In their fundraising communications, a good number of nonprofits betray their intentions and weaken the premium’s impact .

The mistake is unintentional. The damage is real. This post, along with others on this topic, will help you get it right.  This information can mean extra dollars in your next fundraiser.

ANALYSIS: Since 1985, we have offered the following analysis. Over the years, as VisABILITY supplied thousands of nonprofit marketing and fundraising campaigns. As our experience grew, so did our commitment to this reasoning.

Think about this personal interaction:

Several times each day someone holds the door for us. Or someone passes the salt. Or we sneeze and someone says “Gesundheit.”

In each case we respond with a murmured “thank you.” That phrase is nothing more than the trivial, unconsidered reflex you and I automatically offer after we receive a minor service or favor. Offered without thought! Offered without much meaning! Offered automatically!

Now apply this concept to your fundraising communications:

In your solicitation, whether it is in print, online or on-air, your job it to extol the premium’s virtues in an effort to encourage a contribution.  You are talking about a branding product that reflects your organization. You are trying to harness pride of association. You know a supporter will proudly carry the mug or T-shirt or tote-bag with your logo.


So, why devalue that premium? Why imply that it is a common, bare-minimum gesture of automatic acknowledgement, a mere reflex? Why call it a “gift” or a “thank you” or….worse yet, …a “thank you gift”?

The premium you are offering your contributor is not a “thank you.” It’s not a “present.” It’s not a “giveaway.” It is not a “gift.” These common words and phrases open doors to places you do not want to go.


Market-savvy nonprofit executives understand the following four principles:

1) They know a properly presented premium is a desirable badge of affinity – a motivational tool to push your most committed listeners over the edge and into the membership roster and/or into a higher gift category. It is an inducement to attract renewals and upgrades.

2) They know that, when used by the contributor, their badge of affinity becomes a powerful marketing tool which generates a vast number of repeat impressions for the nonprofit. 

3) They know the premium must be carefully selected and thoughtfully presented in a manner that establishes perceived value. They know presentation must avoid terms that undermine perceived value – terms like “thank you gift.”

4) They understand that, when used properly, the premium is an investment, not an expense.

A properly used premium can play a critical role in your marketing and fundraising programs. But the premium will not speak into a microphone or sit at a computer to write a solicitation letter.  It is up to you to create the perceived value that will enable the premium to enhance revenue and affinity.

PERCEIVED VALUE: Use the following three elements to create the perceived value that will pull renewals and upgrades in your next fundraiser. Perceived value comes….

  • from the utility and quality of the product itself – don’t risk your brand by putting your logo on a premium of limited use or lower quality.
  • from that product’s relationship with your brand – a well-imprinted and well-positioned logo of proper size makes the premium become a potential badge of affinity.
  • from using language that emphasizes its function as a motivator – by overtly declaring in your fundraising communications that this product is a limited edition item to be owned only by supporters of your mission.

Properly select and communicate your premiums so they can become badges of affinity. Then  your most loyal supporters will be likely to recognize the premium as a desirable must-have prod to action, a product that boasts of their commitment to your mission. That will make many prospects…. who otherwise would sit on their hands…. decide to reach for their checkbook.

COMING NEXT: Badge of Affinity. Motivator. Incentive. Return on investment. Perceived value.  Trade-up. Renewal.

These words and phrases are part of a disciplined approach to marketing and to fundraising. That approach has been examined by research costing hundreds of millions of dollars over the past two or three decades.

In anticipation of the Fall fundraising season, our next post will surf the content of this blog, identify the most useful essays on this topic, give a couple sentence about the “how-to” and “why” each one covers and then provide a link. That batch of links can lead you to a large repository of experienced-based advice and example.


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

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