Are Premiums Right for Your Organization? DMAW Marketing AdVents – June 2016
unexpected in the
mail. As a result,
most marketers have
premiums in direct
programs—with mixed results.
As we know, what our intuitions tell us
will work doesn’t always match the real-
We know some organizations still are
highly dependent on expensive premium
packages that undoubtedly drive higher
response rates. But looking beyond the
initial response rate to consider donor
value, our analytics have shown, time and
again, that an overuse of premiums
ultimately can result in lower-value, less-
loyal donors—donors who are difficult to
re-engage and successfully re-solicit.
Of course, all organizations are different.
So I contacted three direct marketing pro-
fessionals, who are well versed in the sub-
ject of premium use, to pick their brains
about their premium strategies.
First, I asked Nancy Campbell, senior
director of mail and telemarketing at
The Humane Society of the United States
(HSUS), to weigh in with her thoughts on
how HSUS uses premiums, and what is and
isn’t working for her program.
“HSUS continues to have success with
tried-and-true paper premiums, such as
notecards and notepads—although there
has been a recent fall-off in address labels’
success, maybe because so many mail-
ers continue to use them,” Campbell said.
“We’ve also had good response when
we’ve sent gardening gloves in the spring
and fleece gloves in the fall.”
In Campbell’s experience, the key is to
connect the premium to HSUS’ mission in
the letter copy, although the premiums
aren’t necessarily mission-specific. Look
at one of HSUS’ recent, breakthrough
packages containing ankle socks with im-
ages of animals on them. The letter copy
explained that the donors would be re-
minded of their commitments to animals
each time they wear the socks. Based on
response, the donors loved it, and by vary-
ing the images on the socks, this is a pre-
mium that could have a long shelf life.
But, inexplicably, a similar HSUS scarf
did not boost numbers, nor did an “I Love
My Pet” cross-stitch or a package of basil
seeds sent in a follow-up to the gardening
gloves. More reasons to test, test, test.
Additionally, Campbell reported that,
when comparing the names acquired from
paper premiums versus those acquired
from more substantial premiums (e.g.,
gloves, tote bags), the overall long-term
donor value is comparable. But HSUS’
non-premium packages deliver donors
with the best long-term value.
I also spoke with Laura Connors, vice
president of membership at the National
Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), to
get her take on premium use.
“For NPCA, our best-performing pre-
miums are mission-related to appeal to
our outdoors-focused members—gifts
like a bucket hat, satchel/messenger bag,
mini-lantern and blanket,” said Connors.
“We haven’t seen any jaw-dropping break-
throughs in premiums, and although they
work for other organizations, water bot-
tles, which seemed like a no-brainer, and
grocery totes didn’t work for us.”
For NPCA, mission-relevant premiums
work as well as more generic giveaways.
“We don’t see a lot of difference in our
return on investment based on premiums,”
Connors explained. “List selection and
package copy/design make much more of
an impact on our successful metrics.”
Finally, I talked to Dane Grams, mem-
bership director at the Human Rights
Campaign (HRC), about the organization’s
unique experience with premiums. We
began by talking about what works.
“We’re lucky at HRC that our logo mer-
chandise is also our visibility; since our
logo is also our mission, everything is
essentially mission based,” Grams noted.
“Bags, T-shirts and mugs do particularly
well for us. And this past winter we had
two HRC-cap options—a knit hat for
donors in cool places, and a baseball cap
for [those in] warmer places.”
Grams explained that HRC also capital-
izes on the fact that donors love options.
“Our new control acquisition package
gives people a choice of three premiums:
a mug, an umbrella or a field bag,” said
Grams. “Or you can get all three for a
certain dollar level. We’ve also been offer-
ing freemiums on social media to great
success, including inexpensive items, like
stickers and address labels.”This helps HRC
collect addresses and include these names
in its acquisition mailings, which double as
Like most organizations that use
premiums/freemiums, HRC has found the
sweet spot for what donors want through
rigorous testing. It also has found what its
donors don’t want. Grams said anything
with an HRC logo works, as long as it isn’t
cheap or defective, and doesn’t break in
The experiences of Campbell, Connors
and Grams are very different, but mirror
the variety of responses to premiums that
we’ve experienced with our clients. That’s
why I recommend that organizations
test frequently; ensure that their analytic
infrastructures are in place; and wean
their programs from the more expensive,
transactional, premium-based approaches
to hybrid programs that make clear con-
nections to their missions, incorporate
mission-relevant premiums, or, better yet,
have no premiums at all and drive equal or
better long-term value.
If you can articulate a strong and
compelling case for support that will
motivate your donors to give—borne out
by ongoing testing—the result will be
lower upfront costs and higher-value
donors who are more loyal to your
org-anization over the long haul.
Allison Porter is president and co-founder ofThe Avalon
Consulting Group, a full-service direct marketing agency.
She is well recognized across both the nonprofit and
fundraising industries for her leadership and integrated,
multichannel approach to fundraising.
Right for Your
CASE STUDY BY ALLISON PORTER
A closer look at direct marketing campaigns in action