Is it FAIR For Fundraisers to Offer Free Gifts?

Free gifts can be seen as suspect in any context, because the concept of fairness is at the core of all human interaction. “You want me to do something for you – what’s in it for me?”

Quid pro quo. Tit for Tat. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours …

Like it or not, it’s how things get done.

free gift ad

Unfortunately, anyway you say it, it still sounds dirty and unseemly. And it’s not limited to politics, international business, or clandestine transactions.

This concept of reciprocity can definitely feel dishonest–beyond the pale of the philanthropically well-intentioned, esteemed organizations they would support.

But people like the feeling of something being “fair” and fundraising is no exception.

We see it all the time.

  • Subscribe to your local PBS station – they’ll send you a boxed set of Downton Abbey DVDs, or a mug that proudly claims “it’s not about the mug.”
  • Pay your alumni dues – an alumni association window decal is on its way.
  • Open the solicitation envelope from St. Jude and a life-time supply of return address labels are yours – even if you don’t make a gift (but how could you not?).

So why so much cringing and hand-wringing when it comes to including an offer in our planned giving solicitations?

We want our donors to respond, but the reasons we give them for doing so are totally lame.

Let’s get real.  “More information” and “Our Free Estate Planning Guide” are not offers that show our appreciation for their inquiry.

In fact, they aren’t offers at all. They’re HOMEWORK.  And who wants more homework?


lead generator free gift


Free Gifts Generate Leads

Do you want to know another name for a FREE GIFT?  In the marketing world, we call free gifts “lead generators.”

The reason for that is when someone accepts the gift, they identify themselves as being interested in you and your organization.

Planned giving marketing campaigns that include lead-generators get measurably better results than those that do not.

And to anyone concerned about the cost and perceived value of the gift, here’s some great news: It’s not about cost of the gift. (It’s not about the mug!)

As trite as it may sound, it’s the thought that counts.

Before you go blowing the budget on new tchotchkes, think of something your donors–who love your organization–would actually use and enjoy.

  • What remind them of your organization?  (A magnet? A bookmark?)
  • What allows them to advertise their affinity to your organization? (A bumper sticker? A pin?)
  • What type of gift could position them as a hero? (Honored on Facebook, your website or another area? Bestowed an insider name, such as a “Freedom Fighter,” “World Changer,” “Abolitionist,” etc.)

Think of how a donor might feel to receive the gift–the emotional payoff may be easier to satsify, less expensive to fulfill, and more effective.

What's the BEST Free Gift for YOUR Donor?

Discover the power of free gifts as part of a highly personalized planned giving marketing campaign.

Ideas for FREE GIFTS

If you’re looking for a tangible gift, enlist the help of other people in your organization. Speak to someone at the bookstore if they have any discontinued items in the stock room.

You’d be amazed at what you have lying around and even more amazed how appreciative your donors will be to receive something that everyone in the office had written off as junk.

Swag not your thing? That’s okay.


  • invitations to events
  • a speakers’ series
  • docents tour you host
  • recordings of your band’s or orchestra’s performances
  • commemorative books about the history of your organization

Your token gift of thanks in exchange for a loyal donor raising their hand doesn’t cheapen their gift. But it could motivate them to answer a few questions about their most personal philanthropic inclinations.

Thoughtful thanks demonstrate your understanding of the social norms or reciprocity. These genteel vestiges of social behavior can facilitate more open conversations between you and your donor.

  1. Think about it: you’ve asked them to become a lead.
  2. They’ve consented to tell you what they’re thinking.
  3. You thank them with a small gift.

In doing so, you fulfill a social contract.

It not only builds trust, it shows you appreciate your donor and value them beyond their gift.

Re-Engage Your Donors

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