I don’t think there is anything wrong in incentivizing people to donate, but you need to be careful that the incentive isnt the motive for the donation, especially when its just a pledge based thing (ie pledge to donate now and you could win X). In their recent editorial Nudge, nudge, Chink, chink, nfpsynergy suggest that a nice incentive increases the average direct debit size.
If you are smart about your incentives they will also continue to work for you, continue to spread the word about your organisation and make the person who donates feel proud that they are one of your supporters. I love wearing the hoody of my favourite charity out and about, I take pride in the fact that I support them. Let your incentives do this job for you.
Another interesting way to work an incentive, that I saw to great effect recently, is to send it back to the person who the donation is being made for. Let me explain. Working on an appeal recently we encouraged people to make a donation and if it was over a certain amount we would then send a teddy bear, with their name on it, to a child who would benefit (in this case, sick in hospital).
The gut reaction for things like that is to reward the donor, send them the teddy, and yes there is merit in that. But this was a really great way to turn the incentive on its head. I took calls from donors who just loved the fact that we were sending a teddy with their name on it to a child. It was happening that day and the donors were able to check out the impact of the gift through audio and online (i would love to have had pictures of the children with the teddy from each donor sent to the donor….but not sure that is possible).
Whatever you decide to do with your incentives, make sure they continue to work for you, because they do work