MONEY charitable giving

9 Cool Perks You Can Get by Giving to Charity

The best gifts come from museums, zoos, and other arts and culture groups.

Nonprofits employ all kinds of strategies to let donors know their support is appreciated — from handwritten thank-you notes to special perks and behind-the-scenes access.

“The idea isn’t just that the donor gets a gift, but that the charity is cultivating a donor by making them more committed to the organization and increasing their involvement,” says Michael Nilsen, vice president of public policy for the Association of Fundraising Professionals. “It’s about the charity stewarding the donors and keeping them informed and letting them see the impact of their giving.”

Rewarding donors with a little something extra is a widespread practice, and can be very effective at retaining donors, says Nilsen. In general, the most exotic donor benefits tend to come from organizations that are already in the experience business: museums, zoos and other arts- and culture-related nonprofits.

We also found, with a little digging, that a lot of the coolest rewards kick in at the $1,000 gift level. So the following list includes our favorite gifts for $1,000 donors.

  • Smithsonian

    The Renwick Gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
    Ron Blunt The Renwick Gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

    Smithsonian donors receive complimentary VIP tickets to the institution’s popular annual Breakfast at the Zoo event, as well a behind-the-scenes tour with a docent.

  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art

    The “Rain Room” at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), on view November 1, 2015–March 6, 2016, an immersive work by the London-based artist collective Random International. Within this large-scale installation, water falls continuously to create a cacophonous interior downpour that pauses wherever a human body is detected.
    Stuart Wood—courtesy Random International The “Rain Room” at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), on view November 1, 2015–March 6, 2016, an immersive work by the London-based artist collective Random International. Within this large-scale installation, water falls continuously to create a cacophonous interior downpour that pauses wherever a human body is detected.

    Donors under the age of 40 can join the museum’s Avant-Garde group and take part in curator-led tours, private collection visits, and even tours of artist studios.

  • St. Louis Zoo

    The 850-Pound Polar Bear "Kali” was transported from Rochester, New York to the Saint Louis Zoo on May 5, as a donation by FedEx.
    Kelly Ann Brown—Buffalo Zoo The 850-Pound Polar Bear "Kali” was transported from Rochester, New York to the Saint Louis Zoo on May 5, as a donation by FedEx.

    Animal lovers can get a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo for themselves and six friends to see penguins and other zoo residents in a more intimate setting.

  • Tampa Museum of Art

    The exterior of the Tampa Art Museum is viewed on February 14, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.
    George Rose—Getty Images The exterior of the Tampa Art Museum is viewed on February 14, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.

    Like LACMA, the Tampa museum gives big donors access to artist studios, galleries and private collections not open to the public.

  • U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

    Visitors to the Museum pass under this gate, a cast taken from the original entrance to the Auschwitz death camp, inscribed with the ironic phrase Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes One Free).
    courtesy US Holocaust Memorial M Visitors to the Museum pass under this gate, a cast taken from the original entrance to the Auschwitz death camp.

    The Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., gives its donors special access to conference calls with the institution’s experts.

  • Field Museum

    Visitors to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois admire Sue, one of the largest, most extensive and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex specimens ever found, April 1, 2014. Named after Sue Hendrickson, the paleontologist who discovered the fossil in 1990, it was acquired at auction by the Field Museum in 1997 for $8.36 million, the highest amount ever paid for a dinosaur fossil.
    Brett T. Roseman—The Washington Post/Getty Images Visitors to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois admire Sue, one of the largest, most extensive and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex specimens ever found.

    Donors who support this Chicago science museum get a behind-the-scenes breakfast with a Field Museum scientist; they also can participate in three of its Field Encounters events — seminars and field trips led by museum scientists, curators, and artists.

  • Baseball Hall of Fame

    Baseball fans at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, 2014.
    Chuck Franklin—Alamy Baseball fans at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, 2014.

    Fans of the national pastime can attend the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, get an exclusive tour of the facility, and attend a reception with a Hall of Famer.

  • Newseum

    The New York Times-Ochs-Sulzberger Family Great Hall of News, Newseum, Washington, D.C.
    Maria Bryk The New York Times-Ochs-Sulzberger Family Great Hall of News, Newseum, Washington, D.C.

    As a Friend of the First Amendment, you’ll get access to a private weekday tour for six that will be tailored to your interests, as well as the chance to attend the annual “Evening with the Curator,” including an exploration of the museum’s artifacts.

     

  • Zoo Miami

    151203_FF_Charity_MiamiZoo
    Wilfredo Lee—AP A lion cub nuzzles up to its mother, 4 ½-year-old Kashifa, at Zoo Miami.

    Donors to this Florida institution can get up close to the zoo’s animals, participating in four giraffe feedings and a behind-the-scenes “animal experience” for four people.

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