Signed, Sealed and Delivered, published by the Fundraising Standards Board last week, found that only 16 per cent of respondents thought it was acceptable to include gifts in direct mail packs, and 70 per cent thought charities included gifts to induce guilt about not giving (Third Sector Online, 22 November).
Most respondents to the survey of more than 2,000 donors also said they would not give a donation to a charity that had sent them a gift.
However, sector experts insisted that incentives do raise response rates.
"We get a far greater number of people asking us for more address labels than we do from people complaining that they don't want them," a Royal British Legion spokeswoman said.
"We've found that incentives bring in more donors and a higher average donation than the same communication sent without an incentive. As long as the return on investment is comparable and complaints are low, they do have a place in direct mail."
Joe Saxton, co-founder of research body nfpSynergy and chair of the Institute of Fundraising, agreed. "What the public says and what it does are different things," he said. "They say 'I don't need this pen, just send me a plain appeal and I will give' or 'I will remember to give over Christmas', but every direct marketer knows that if you don't send out the mail pack, you don't get."
But he added that charities could face a backlash if they over-used the method: "The question is: when does fundraising activity start eating away at future support?"
David Burrows, head of fundraising at direct marketing agency TDA, was on an expert panel that advised the Institute of Fundraising that charities should stop using incentives unless they are relevant to their causes (Third Sector Online, 9 November).
He said: "I'm not surprised that people interpret gifts as some kind of bribe. The problem is that charities don't explain why they do it. The challenge is making sure that, by increasing the small number of people who respond, you aren't having a detrimental effect on the majority, which then leads to enforcement and legislation."