Gift enclosures in fundraising appeals – the debate rages on

One of the projects I’m doing for the new ESRC Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy involves interviewing donors about how they select charities to support. Even though I don’t ask any questions about the fundraising techniques they encounter, almost every interviewee makes unprompted complaints about the methods that charities use in their appeals. Top amongst the grumbles is the use of ‘free gifts’ to prompt donations – you know the kind of thing: a pen, a set of peronalised address lables, even big freebies like umbrellas get sent out to potential donors.

So I was intrigued to read a defence of this technique, in the latest newsletter produced by the direct fundraising company csdm. You have to sign up for their newsletter (FR Strategy at to read the article, but in essence it reports that the principle of reciprocity (giving-taking-giving back) remains a powerful force that can be harnessed to increase response rates. Anthropologists have long documented gift giving processes in non-Western societies – the exchange of shells, beads, cattle etc being a kind of currency to conduct economic and social relationships. And some sociologists argue that gift-giving propels life in Western societies too. Witness the power of being bought a drink in a pub – social norms make it almost impossible to head home without returning the gesture. And the nature of the tit-for-tat exchange takes no account of the monetary value, what matters is standing your round, not whether the coke someone bought you costs less than the G&T they ask for in return.

csdm reckon that gift enclosures can raise response rates by 100-200%, which is quite a claim. As I blogged on 21 April: 

I wonder if there’s any way of factoring in the negative affect on those who are put off by such methods, and really object to receiving gifts from charities who, they feel, should be spending their money on the beneficiaries not on prospective donors?

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