"Is that all?" Why low donors matter

Ever put a stack of items on a store counter, only to hear the cashier say, "Is that all?"  I often find myself thinking "isn't that enough?"

The real question, of course, is "did you find everything you need?" How that moment is handled colors the customer's experience, especially since payment is the final transaction. Same goes for fundraising.

Fundraisers often ask for high dollar amounts, especially over the phone or in person, because starting low means larger gifts get missed. They also want to lay out options a donor might not have considered, such as spreading out a gift monthly or quarterly or delaying payment several months.

But many people can only give lower amounts, or don't want to give more. And here's where things can go very wrong.

I've sometimes gotten responses to my smaller gifts that are dangerously close to "is that all?" Usually it's a reply so artificially polite that I feel like I've wandered into a high end boutique wearing clothes from Target. If a nonprofit rep sounds disappointed or annoyed at my gift, it tells me that my money isn't needed there.

Fortunately, most fundraisers give an enthusiastic "thank you!" no matter what I give. As a donor, I've remembered which organizations make me feel valued, no matter what my level of giving. If I have a good experience with a nonprofit, I really spread the word, including via social media. If I don't, that's the last gift they get from me.

Effective fundraisers know that today's low donor could be tomorrow's major giver. They also know that any donor may have contacts that could be valuable for the organization. And, of course, the average gift to a nonprofit is not large, and they do add up. But while all that matters, something intangible also matters.

I called a donor for an orchestra last summer, asking for a gift in addition to his recent $20 because a match was on offer. He said he couldn't afford the $20 he already gave as he was wasn't getting many hours in his tool grinder job, but he was such a fan of the orchestra that he'd given anyhow.

I loved talking to him, and to many other donors, during that campaign. People from all backgrounds spoke passionately about the performances they'd seen. Some had been subscribers for thirty years. Many remembered field trips to see children's shows. Some had been to the free performances for Martin Luther King Day or July 4. Many were thrilled to hear about the Head Start partnerships and city school programs. Each person had a story to tell about how they had been touched by the orchestra.

"Is that all?" misses the point.

  1. gravatar

    # by Shoshana - January 26, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    I once had a $25 donation that turned into a $500 donation the following year. The people that donate at a smaller amount today, if you build relationships with them, could be your major donors in the future. Situations can change for the better, plus every donor is special!

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    # by @wanderingzito - June 14, 2011 at 10:46 PM

    Hi Tracy- I just stumbled across your blog from Twitter when I saw a great quote you posted. I loved this post because I'm currently doing my own project to give away 10$ to a different charity every day for a year. It's been very eye opening to see which projects can make a difference with 10$ and to know that some organizations even have a 25$ minimum gift to even donate! I still have 250 days to give, so if you know of any great projects that would joyfully receive and make a difference with 10$ I'd love to hear about them.

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    # by Tracy Moavero - June 15, 2011 at 2:33 AM

    Hi Stephanie/@wanderingzito - What a wonderful project you're doing! I'm tweeting a link to your question to my followers tomorrow so we can spark some discussion and get some suggestions coming in (I hope!). I'm curious: how have you run across a $25 minimum? Was it online? I've never seen organizations turn down gifts, though sometimes $10 as a phonebank pledge that requires followup by mail is not enticing from a cost/benefit standpoint. But if the money is being donated through a website or in response to a mailing, that shouldn't be a problem.

    Since you're in Cambodia, have you given to any of the landmines relief efforts in Cambodia? http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/ - http://www.landmine-relief-fund.com/. I could ask a friend who worked on the landmines campaign in Cambodia for suggestions on other orgs too, especially since she also knew the women's organizations, peace orgs, and help for mine victims orgs.

    I also love the work of a Quaker lobby organization I used to work for, the Friends Committee on National Legislation. They bring a rare level of integrity, thoughtfulness and bridge-building to key issues in Washington, DC. www.fcnl.org

    A grassroots organization in the Philippines that I love is the Third World Movement against the Exploitation of Women. Founded by Sr. Mary Soledad Perpiñan (or "Sister Sol," whom I met at the UN conference on women in Beijing in 1995), the organization works to get women out of the sex trade by giving them better ways to support themselves. http://www.tw-mae-w.org/twmaew/donate/19/ways-of-sending-donations

    I stumbled upon Thai Freedom House, one of the organizations working with the longterm Burmese refugee population in Thailand. I don't know them, but they look very interesting. http://www.thaifreedomhouse.org/

    The Lambi Fund of Haiti has been working to strengthen civil society in Haiti for years, focusing on microcredit, sustainable development, leadership training and more. Lambi is Haitian-run, so the organization knows the people and their needs.
    http://www.lambifund.org/

    Joe Torre's Safe at Home Foundation: Baseball manager Joe Torre grew up with domestic violence, so he has started an organization to help kids dealing with the same problem. http://www.joetorre.org/

    Heifer International has shares of gifts for $10, so your money is pooled with that of other donors to provide someone with a pig, trees, rabbits or a sheep to help a family generate income and/or food. Wonderful organization. http://www.heifer.org/

    And I keep finding Women for Women International so interesting. http://www.womenforwomen.org/index.php

    If you attempt to give to any of the above and run into problems, please let me know!