Baubles. Trinkets. Knick knacks. Tchotchkes. These novelty items go by many names and often find their way into the hands of campaign donors once a major fundraising initiative is complete.
Most development professionals would agree: selecting a meaningful gift for campaign supporters is difficult—and at times, can feel impossible.
How do you walk the line between substantial and showy? How do you select something that donors truly want, especially seasoned philanthropists who seem to have received it all? And what can you gift to your broader base of supporters that doesn’t feel like a throwaway item?
There are no one-size-fits-all answers here, but you can turn what may feel like a perfunctory act into a meaningful stewardship opportunity. Read on for time-tested strategies to guide your selection, plus some examples to get you brainstorming.
Let’s start with gifts for your top-level donors. These individuals made transformational gifts to your campaign, and you want to honor their leadership-level giving in a special way. But that can be tricky when these donors give generously to multiple organizations and receive no shortage of recognition gifts.
How can you stand out from the sea of trinkets and give them something they will cherish?
Start with what’s unique to your organization and aim for one-of-a-kind, not expensive. We recommend choosing a gift that’s tied to your organizational history, mission, or your campaign theme and projects. Your principal-level donors are deeply committed to your organization and your cause, so strive to reflect that commitment in your gift. For a theater, that could mean framing a playbill signed by stars of a beloved production.
Big Shoulders Fund is an independent charitable organization that serves inner-city Catholic schools which provide a quality, values-based education for Chicago’s children, thereby contributing to stronger communities. To recognize donors, they work to give impactful, unique gifts that donors will use. The organization has framed drawings by students or pictures of students in their programs to recognize leadership for their years of service.
Amy Drozda, their Senior Director, Philanthropy, Partnerships, and Engagement, encourages other organizations to consider this question: “How can your gift connect to your work and communicate genuine gratitude—without appearing to take money away from the mission?”
A photo spread from the OMSI coffee table book commemorating the Coastal Discovery Center at Camp Gray.
Gifts commemorating the campaign work well, too. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry thanked top donors to its recent campaign with a coffee table book that features photos of its new Coastal Discover Center at Camp Gray, showcasing the campaign journey and impact. If it’s more realistic for you to stick with photos from one important event, consider creating an album from an opening gala or another campaign celebration.
Don’t be afraid to think beyond a physical object, either. The gift could be an experience—such as a customized, private tour of a new building wing—or a personalized video thank you from a highly-regarded organizational stakeholder. As long as you’re focused on mission-connected, one-of-a-kind gifts, there’s no limit to the possibilities.
USEFUL, BRANDED, AND VISIBLE
When you’re considering a gift for campaign donors that gave below the principal level, put it through this three-question test:
- Is it practical? Campaign-themed novelty items can seem like a good bet, but prioritize usefulness over cleverness. You don’t want to give your donors something they throw away or forget after a few days. We’ve seen travel umbrellas or passport holders work well in this context.
- Can you brand it? Your supporters are proud to give to your organization. Be sure to choose something you can customize with your organization or campaign logo.
- Will your donors use it in public? Donors want to display their affiliation with you, so focus on gifts that are visible to others: think a travel coffee mug over a wine glass. When donors use your gift in public, it builds brand awareness and positions them as ad hoc brand ambassadors.
Honoring your campaign donors is a necessity, but choosing the right gift can be a delicate balance. We hope these strategies and examples help guide you toward recognition gifts that go beyond trinkets and tchotchkes to foster meaningful donor stewardship.
If you have any questions about campaign gifts, you can reach me at Damien.Berliet@campbellcompany.com.