"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.