The last Direct Mail Myth I want to bust is the one that is the most true: Premiums always boost response. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, but adding a premium to an acquisition package very often will boost your response rate. And while I have less experience with premiums in house mail, it's certainly true that a well-chosen premium can increase both your average gift and your percent response. But premiums in direct mail come with a host of complex issues, and the truth is they don't always work.
Here are three things to consider when you're looking at premiums:
-- How much do they cost? And I'm not just talking about the cost of the actual premium. What will your costs be to fulfill the premium? If it's an up-front gift -- a magnet, notecards or address labels, say -- will the added weight up your postage, or will the item itself distract from the real purpose of your package, which is, of course, to get a gift? If the premium is something you're sending out once people donate, how much will it cost to mail it to them? Some seemingly cheap premiums have hidden shipping costs that make the item prohibitive.
-- Is the added cost worth it? If you get a boost in response -- either in larger average gifts, or more donors -- you need to do the work to see if that pencils out against the cost of the premium and fulfillment. And how do those donors renew? Are they joining just to get the premium, then dropping like flies? Or are they sticking around, ensuring that the added costs are made up by their years of giving?
-- And most importantly: How does the premium fit with your mission? An environmental organization that sends address labels may acquire more donors, but that extra paper is sending a subtle, unintended message that they may not be quite as green as they claim. On the other hand, an environmental that promises a tote bag is putting their money where their mouth is -- and getting more effective advertising when donors carry the bags in public. Carefully consider what your chosen premium says about your organization: is that a message you want to send to your potential donors?
To me the biggest question to ask yourself about premiums, encompassing all the things I discussed above, is this: Do you want donors who support you because you shower them with gifts, or because they believe in the importance of your mission?