4 Types of Swag That Your Members Will Actually Want

Promotions and giveaways can boost your members’ morale, but not all swag is created equal. Two membership managers reveal which freebies work best.

If there’s one thing National Public Radio members are known for, it’s tote bags.

A free NPR tote bag is an extra reason why members give annually to public radio. It’s also a highly coveted piece of swag that retails in the NPR bookstore.

But that’s not the only force driving radio listeners to give. Last week, NPR debuted a new wine club. As a lifelong public radio fan, I can certainly cheers to that and its trio of tongue-in-cheek wine labels: “All Grapes Considered” malbec, “Weekend Edition” cabernet sauvignon, and “Uncorked” merlot.

For membership pros, there’s a lesson to be learned, aside from the fact that some of your members like to drink wine. The real lesson is to give your members things with practicality and purpose. And to get people in the door as either members or donors, you might have to think outside the box.

“The days are gone of giving a 10 percent discount to join, and members come right in,” says Angela Prather, membership and partnership management for the United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA). “There has to be more to the relationship, and it starts with interesting or new promotions and giveaways.”

But maybe you’ve been hit with a bad fiscal year, and promotional items are in the crosshairs of budget cuts. You might not think that your members will notice, but guess again, says Eva Prygodzki, manager of membership and engagement for the American Fisheries Society (AFS). At one point, her office underwent an address change that led to a delay in the delivery of new membership cards. It didn’t take long for members to notice.

“We got comments, like: ‘Where is my new membership card?’ [or] ‘I received nothing from you,’” Prygodzki says. “You never know what the rate of return will be on something so little or so small.”

Keeping in mind that your members probably love swag, here are four examples of giveaways that can help to increase satisfaction and engagement:

1. Welcome box or packet. While a promotional item typically is not the sole reason members join, it can be a “surprise and delight” tactic for lifelong engagement. In some cases, associations will go all-out and spring for a welcome box filled with swag. Typically, Prygodzki sends each new AFS member a small token of appreciation, usually a branded keychain or bookmark, small enough to fit inside a welcome letter. “We had a student who actually took the time to write us a thank you note for the gift,” Prygodzki says. “Even one letter like that is worth it for the ROI.”

2. Swag with practicality. Also, keep in mind that not all swag is created equal. A lot of it can be a waste of time and money, like branded fidget spinners. Prygodzki says go for the “swag items with personal practicality.” For instance, luggage tags are an essential item for AFS members, who travel a lot for meetings. As are bright-yellow whistles, which fish scientists use to signal to each other while conducting research in rivers and streams. “We achieved our goal because we gave our members a tool to use,” Prygodzki says. “And our logo on the item is a small reminder of our value.”

3. Items to wear on your sleeve. Part of picking the right item is also knowing what your members will latch onto. Take, for instance, personal chefs, who pride themselves on their professional look and demeanor. USPCA members often wear a traditional white coat uniform. To stand out, Prather gives members a few wearables—coat patches and vehicle window clings—that make them easily identifiable. Not only is it easy and convenient to send, but something like a pin, decal, patch, or button can also serve as a point of pride to the newly minted member.

4. Prizes from partners. Chefs are also super competitive, and Prather likes to reward members through giveaways and other contests or competitions. One of the latest examples was a “25 Days of Giveaways,” which coincided with USPCA’s 25th anniversary. “We gave gifts from our partners—chef coats, aprons, and different kinds of kitchen products—as a way to show support,” Prather says. “We look at each giveaway as an opportunity to not only engage members but also our partners, emphasizing the value that they bring to the association.”

Which products, promotions, or giveaways have worked best to increase member engagement? Leave your comments in the thread below.

NPR has a wine club. Really. (Handout photo)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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