“Trinkets & Trash”

What do you think of the practice of sending donors “trinkets and trash” to encourage giving???  I know that’s a rather pejorative way of referring to it, so I guess you can gather that I’m not a fan of this approach.  Though I should preface this by saying that I’ve never worked for an organization that did this, so I haven’t been in the position where I’ve had to justify it before.  Furthermore, I do hear that organizations have a great return on those mailings, so if it ain’t broke…

Let me give some background on why this is on my mind.  I recently made what was intended to be a one-time donation to a well-known, Toronto-based charity.  I read one of their ads and was so moved by it that I felt compelled to give.  And then the onslaught of mail and trinkets and trash began.  I’m pretty sure I made my gift within this calendar year, and I swear I’ve received 6-10 mailings from them already, with 3-4 containing gifts of some sort; gifts I’ll never use, gifts I never asked for, gifts I never wanted.  These gifts are not motivating me to give.  In fact, they’re irritating me, numbing me to the cause, and making me feel far less inclined to give.  The gifts are getting in the way of their message, which is what inspired me to donate in the first place.

I wasn’t sure if I was the only one who felt this way, and luckily I had the perfect opportunity last night to see what others thought of it.  What was the opportunity, you ask?  #maevesmeetup!  Last night I held my third #maevesmeetup event, formerly known as the Midtown Toronto Fundraisers Social.  I started this event at the suggestion of one of my mentors, Paul Nazareth (@UinvitedU), and held the first social in May of this year, and the second in July.  Last night was another great event, with a smaller group, so it was a more intimate experience.  Regardless, it was a great evening!  Thanks to all that joined us!  (Click here to read more about the event.)

photo 1When the first people started arriving, I posed my question about trinkets and trash: what do you think?  Everyone said they didn’t like this approach, and from what I could tell, nobody worked for an organization that practiced it.  One of the attendees, Stacey Charles (@Stacey_Charles), put it well: it’s “old school”.  There is a generation of donors who like getting gifts, but I’m not part of that generation.  I want to sense a need in the charities I’m supporting, and sending me gifts doesn’t express need in the same way an inspiring letter does.  I want to sense that my dollars went straight to work, so I don’t want to have to worry that they’re being spent on gifts for donors.

What do you think???  Is the ROI worth it?  Is this a worthwhile approach?  Or is it going the way of the dodo bird…?


Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

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