Goodie-Free Bags

It is ironic that the people who least need gifts are the ones most likely to have gifts lavished upon them. The goodie bags at the Oscars are legendary.

I get a small taste of the goody-bag life from time to time. I could barely lift the bag of presents I received when I went on the Daily Show, for instance.

Bill Clinton, who no doubt gets smothered in gifts, is trying something very different at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative. According to Ian Wilhelm, writing in the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

Clinton Meeting Skips Swag, But Offers Other Perk

If you paid $20,000 to attend a conference, you’d probably expect a gift bag stuffed with books, gadgets, or other goodies.

But participants at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative — who do pay that amount to be here — are only getting an empty bag. Former president Bill Clinton said the decision to cut back on gifts was in part driven by the economy, but he also wanted to be different than other big world meetings.

In place of the swag, attendees get “200 points” that can be spent at the so-called Giving Back Center, a kiosk where they can allocate their points to various charitable project donated by corporations and charities.

For example, 10 points or so can go to a water filtration packet from Proctor & Gamble, which manufactures the small powdered product that reduces parasites, bacteria, and other contaminants.

While the points are symbolic, how they are spent will indicate what projects people at the Clinton meeting find important.

I especially like that last paragraph; not only is Clinton doing something different, but there is an economic twist to it. By letting people allocate their points, it is revealing attendees’ preferences as well.

(Hat tip: Linda Jines)


Great idea, but who's was it? I'd bet my tail it wasn't Willy. But kudos for him for recognizing the value.


Why is it so hard to believe that Clinton would come up with such an idea?


I don't see what the big deal is.

From their website, membership in the organization is $20k - $19k is tax deductible.

You could argue for making the membership $19k but that would be mean-spirited and WRONG.

I'm sure a good number of the members are in it for the business opportunities and a good number are in it for the good of society. That $1k or so of benefits is there for a reason and this organization has come up with a way to "tax" it.

(Not the same Mike from comment 2).


You mean the best goodie bags go to the people who need it least? You mean kind of like paying the Board of Directors for Goldman Sachs?


Sounds a lot like Berkshire's former corporate giving program - before Warren ditched it in the face of a short-sighted protest campaign.

Bobby G

I thought I taped you on The Colbert Report. Were you on both? If so, was the goodie bag on Colbert not noteworthy as well? Did you even get one on that show?

In regards to Clinton, I think he is certainly more politician than economist or utilitarian, but he definitely seems to appreciate certain economic values more than other politicians. I'd rank him high in his party on the economic awareness scale.


My friends and I ran something similar by donating a car and having the receiving organization raffle it off. Instead of having just the value of the car which was $15000, it had a multiplier effect that generated more than three times its value. People were willing to "donate" $10-20 for a chance to win the prize and contribute to the scholarship fund.


Interesting how Bill doesn't think people need the $200 of swag but he needs to charge $20,000. Why not just donate the $20,000 to the cause of choice?


This is a means to get the attendees into the spirit and actions that are the raison d'etre of the Initiative early and often.

Question: When is Swag a Kickback?
For the Oscars, etc., it is a matter of trying to get those celebrities to use their products and thus get advertising and an "unpaid' endorsement.
The Pharmaceutical companies have agreed to stop providing pens and the like to physicians as it was considered kickback (although they were more likely to end up in the hands of staff and patients.)


So, will we know how many of the 200 points don't get use? I mean, if each attendee has to go to a kiosk to donate their point, will they?

This sounds like it would be more interesting to report on after-the-fact. Right now, it is just a PR statement. If, however, they found that attendees focused on some type of charity rather than some other, or that only x% of the points were used, that would be far more interesting.


I am totally curious, what was in the Daily Show gift bag? Hope it was good stuff!

eastside resident

doesn't sound as if any of the commenters know anything about the Clinton Global Initiative.


My local NPR station has a new option (in additional to the usual swag) during its pledge drives: the marginal value of the swag and its shipping cost is donated to a local food bank. This option has been popular, with over 20% of donors choosing it.

At my workplace, employees reaching 5-year increments of service may select from among an array of "milestone gifts." The options are generally horrible: clock radios, steak knives, golf clubs, costume jewelry (all of below-average quality). When I reached such a milestone last year, I inquired whether I could donate the value of the gift to charity instead, but was required to accept a gift I would not otherwise have chosen to purchase had I received its equivalent cash value (I could also have opted not to receive anything, but that didn't sound like any fun). I heard somewhere that the majority of holiday gifts received are something the recipient would not purchase for himself.

"Donate your swag" seems like a nice way to make people feel better about giving.



I see some odd Clinton-bashing here. Please check on the purpose of the Clinton Global Initiative. The $20,000 "does" go to charity, in a way that is transparent to the participants and receives a lot of 'repeat busines' and also stimulates substantial donations of services and support in addition to cash.

I would be interested in a comparison and contrast with the size, scope, and methods of Bush's charity initiatives (either Bush) and Reagan's charity initiatives.

benjamin dzisavi

please i want you to send me som of your bags.
thank you.
p.o. box 17
konongo - odumasi
ghana west africa

benjamin dzisavi

send me