Diner Mugs For Dollars
November 4, 2010 12:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm investigating the feasibility of offering coffee mugs as incentive-gifts for donations to a boarding school. Does anyone have experience with such a thing?

If so, is this an effective way to encourage donations (public radio seems to think so)? Also, I've found a source for imprinted old-style diner mugs at what seems to be a reasonable price. But, if you know of a good source for these, I'd like to know about it. What amount of donation do you recommended to offset the cost of mailing, including labor, postage, and packaging? I suppose that would be whatever the market will bear. What else should I think about before making my proposal to the school?
posted by partner to Grab Bag (8 answers total)
You might consider filling the mugs with a cellophane-pack of small candies.
posted by CathyG at 12:22 PM on November 4, 2010

In my experience, getting rid of mugs like this tends to be a long-term project; in order to make it financially worthwhile, you tend to want to order hundreds, and whilst you can generally cover your costs fairly quickly, you're then stuck with a cupboard full of the damned things. Admittedly, this has generally been when the mugs are either being sold as fundraisers or given away as freebies.

There's also the problem with incentive-gifts that in order to make it worth the hassle, you need to set the bar high-ish; I'd say there's no point in doing it for less than $25 (and ideally $50), at which point if you're going to make a donation, the mug probably won't swing it either way.
posted by Jakob at 12:27 PM on November 4, 2010

Personally, I get cranky about donation gifts, but I realize I'm probably in a small minority. If the place I'm donating to needs funds, why are they wasting them on mugs and postage? I know that they make more than it costs to send me my mug, but it still bugs me. This is why I typically earmark my charitable donations -- I don't want to be purchasing donation incentives with my donated money!

Instead of encouraging donations with a physical item, I'd suggest showing tangible effects of the donated funds. For example, photographs of students doing science, or kicking around a soccer ball, both of which were made possible with the donation I made. This is much less expensive and makes me feel better about donating.

That said, some people love mugs and tote bags. For me, it would be a disincentive.
posted by k8lin at 12:33 PM on November 4, 2010

This is well-trodden ground for development professionals. I definitely recommend consulting with the school's development director (assuming they have one, and I would be surprised if they didn't) before you go too far in planning and researching this. For example, your idea to give away mugs for a $50 gift might get in the way of their upcoming plan to offer framed photos of the school building in exchange for a $75 gift, ultimately costing them money due to lower donation totals.

Some other bits and bobs of note: There are various fundraising goals that are best met with incentives and others that work better without them. For every dollar that public radio station you mentioned raises with on-air incentives, they might be raising 100 behind the scenes via larger donors, grants, etc. They may not want the waters muddied by third parties getting involved, or they may have had a board member complain about incentive-based solicitations in the past.

[As a side note on k8lin's point, I have worked in fundraising in the past and the expense for a donation incentive would often be less than the expense--opportunity cost, mostly--of dealing with a micromanaging donor who thought they were saving us money by demanding onerous restrictions on gifts. But it's a complicated issue and really depends on the nonprofit.]

Keep in mind that someone at the school will have to track the gifts and record a bunch of information about them because the donor's tax deduction could be reduced (there are exceptions to the law for trinkets, but I can't remember offhand whether mugs would be covered). This might not be worth the trouble to them if it means hiring a temp or training yet another flaky volunteer, or if their database (!@%#%@&!) isn't up to snuff.

Finally, the school is probably endlessly inundated with catalogs offering mugs/keychains/t-shirts, and they may already have an exclusive relationship with a vendor due to other products that are made for the school, like pennants or team jerseys.

Sorry if this all seems negative. Just wanted to mention some of the caveats that came to me off the top of my head as someone who used to do this for a living. Definitely offer to pitch in, people who care are awesome.
posted by bcwinters at 12:50 PM on November 4, 2010

Thanks to all for the info. I'd planned to contact the schools development director, and you've given me the inside scoop for when I do.
posted by partner at 1:28 PM on November 4, 2010

My favorite donor swag is stuff that I (and presumably many people) could use more of and am constantly losing, rather than stuff that I have in abundance and could probably use less of:

reusable shopping bags
water bottles
athletic socks
posted by drlith at 2:44 PM on November 4, 2010

They were just talking about this on NPR the other day. I think Ira Glass was saying they hired some donation swag company for TAL, and Glass and his cronies were like "blerg NOT more mugs." And the donation swag company was like "yes. mugs. you absolutely MUST do mugs. Mugs are the most effective donation gift." I was kind of a side-story without a lot of detail but that the force of it was "yes mugs".
posted by jeb at 7:32 PM on November 4, 2010

I'm in advancement (higher ed) and we tend to offer low-end gifts not for donations, but as an incentive for alumni contacts: for example, everyone who verifies their email address or submits a class note receives a token gift (mug, inexpensive t-shirt, window sticker). When we really want to raise the stakes, we also raffle off something more valuable (iPod).

To the point above, a mug or tschochke really isn't an incentive for someone who's inclined to give at the level you need them to in order to justify the expense, but it might be a nice incentive for someone to reconnect with the school - which makes the possibility of a future donation (in theory) more likely.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:04 AM on November 5, 2010

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