Tokens of Appreciation: To Give or Not to Give?

Michael Ellison (@cinsight_edu) is president of Alumni Monitor.

Does a thank you gift cause more harm than good?

While giving gifts to donors might seem likely to boost giving, a recent Yale University study found that tokens of appreciation may actually dissuade future donations if there is ambiguity whether the donation is to support a charity or receive a giveaway.

A number of colleges and institutions send thank you gifts, though, which leads us to another question: What’s the best way to incorporate gifts in alumni giving?

Of the more than 50 colleges and universities nationwide that Alumni Monitor tracks, only nine percent integrated giveaways into their giving schemes in 2015. These four schools (Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Trinity College and Villanova University) incorporated donor appreciation gifts ranging from school-branded holiday ornaments to college-specific word magnets. Northwestern, Trinity and Villanova’s gifts each arrived as a post-donation thank you. In Trinity and Villanova’s cases, the giveaways required a minimum donation: $25 for Villanova’s ornament and $100 for Trinity’s key chain.


Villanova University Holiday Ornament



Trinity College Key Chain


Ohio State University Keyboard Sticker


Northwestern University Picture Frame Magnet

But there’s another way to use gifts: sending a small token before a donation is received. The Yale study above found that preemptive fundraising gifts can increase the overall frequency of donations. The Ohio State University employs this strategy. The institution sends a keyboard sticker to donors after they make gifts but also goes a step further: it preemptively sends a token of appreciation to prospective donors to encourage donations. A Valentine’s Day alumni donation request included a set of removable #BuckeyeLove stickers (“tech tattoos”) for electronic devices.


Ohio State University “Tech Tattoo” Stickers

This simple gesture promotes school pride without making alumni feel their donation was made purely in exchange for a gift. Return labels, magnets and postcards are other small giveaway ideas to consider including with donation requests.

Sending a small favor to donors before a contribution might be the key to showing appreciation. With alumni donation gifts, it’s all in the timing. A small gift sent before the donation allows schools to market their campaigns, show their appreciation and spur interactions on social media with prospective donors who might not be aware of a campaign.

What giveaways have been most successful at your institution? Share in a comment!

One response to “Tokens of Appreciation: To Give or Not to Give?

  1. Pingback: Alumni Monitor – Northwestern Celebrates National Student Athlete Day·

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