Professional Perspectives

Nonprofit Swag: Trash or Treasure?

Goodie Bag

In all aspects of life, the best expressions of thanks are those that make the recipient feel truly appreciated. In the nonprofit sector, where a good “thank you” is critical to donor and volunteer cultivation and stewardship, organizations spend a lot of money on donor appreciation gifts. Too often, however, a nonprofit’s gestures of gratitude are not in sync with what effectively touches the recipient and deepens their connection. Those of us who have been in the nonprofit sector for a while have seen enough glossy brochures, tissue-paper and tchotchke-filled goodie bags, metal-alloy charity race finishing medals, as well as paperweights, tote bags, mugs, and other branded swag, to last a lifetime.

While well intended, how many of these gifts truly connect the organization’s mission with the volunteer or donor’s desire to support it? Rarely, I’m going to guess. Yes, donors or volunteers who devote their time and money in support of an organization want to know that they are appreciated. But determining how nonprofits can best thank their closest friends and supporters takes special thought, since well-chosen words or objects will generate the most positive short- and long-term loyalty and additional investment. (And no one likes throwing into the trash objects that are branded with the names of organizations we love.)

Recently, I received two superb recognition gifts, one from RAINN (which runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline and advocates for sexual assault awareness and prevention) and the other from Gulf Coast Runners (my community running group in Naples, Florida, that has raised over $700,000 in youth scholarships since 1995). These somewhat quirky gifts made me feel great because in fact they were aligned perfectly with the organizations themselves and my role within them. These gestures also underscored and reinforced why I choose to support them—for what they do—and how they prudently/frugally use the resources I devote to them. I treasure GCR’s branded wood-slice-with-leather-tie finishers medal from the Picayune 10-miler and RAINN’s anonymous ballpoint-pen-on-chopped-up-ruled-paper-in-a-kraft-paper-envelope note and each reinforces the organization’s mission.

As nonprofit leaders, we have an opportunity to enhance our connection with those who support us each time we select thank-you gifts or awards, and as we structure recognition ceremonies and fundraising events. (My favorite is Dare2Tri’s “Start the Season” celebration at On Tour Brewing Co., which offers delicious brunch and draft beer, live music, casual dress, and an optional fun run with Paralympians!). Putting thoughtful consideration into gestures of gratitude and friend-raising is worth the effort.

What gifts and other forms of recognition from nonprofits have touched you the most?

Handwritten thank-you note

Thank-you note for volunteer service from RAINN

Race medal made of wood

Finishers medal from Gulf Coast Runners, Naples, Florida