All Gifts Big and Small

Dear Kim:

Our organization is planning a new donor campaign. We are a crisis center and shelter located in a rural community with a significant portion of the population being low-income families, but we also have many recent retirees who have moved here that are more financially well off. Some of our committee members would like to establish levels of giving, perhaps with some incentives attached, and other members feel that this diminishes and may discourage the contributions of those who may not give large amounts but are giving more in proportion to their income. What is the current thinking for such campaigns? Is there a significantly higher return when using hierarchical “levels,” as opposed to an appeal that stresses that even a $5 or $10 gift can make a difference?

–Level Playing Field or Ladder of Opportunity?


Dear Level Ladder:

Keep in mind that the main reason someone will support your organization is that they were asked by someone they knew and trusted. Big gifts are not going to come from well-designed mail appeals or an excellent website (although I am favor of both and they help). Bigger gifts are going to come from personal face-to-face asking.

However, having said that, let’s look at incentives. Many fundraisers (and I would be in this camp) advise small groups against having very many incentives for the simple reason that they are too much work for you. We have a saying in fundraising, “Never promise on the front end what you can’t deliver on the back end.” When you promise someone something for their gift, you have to deliver it. Also, if the audience you are most interested in reaching is retired people who are well off, what are you going to offer them that they don’t already have, or that they didn’t get rid of before moving to your community?

So you are looking for incentives that encourage everyone to give what they can and to feel good about their gifts. To do that, work with incentives that aren’t related to the size of the gift, but the timing of the gift, which makes everything equal. Matching challenges are great for this: “Every gift received before June 10th will be matched one to one. Every dollar is two dollars!” Or use an incentive of getting to know the donors, “If we receive your gift by June 15th, we will send you two free tickets to our Summer Auction.” You may be thinking, “But we need the money from the ticket sales.” However, many people won’t use the free tickets, and those that do might not have bought tickets. You will have a chance to meet some new donors, a decent number who are retired and wanting to get involved in the community.

You can also suggest different sizes of gifts by talking about what you need, for example:

* Your gift of $5 buys a stuffed animal to give to a homeless child. At any given time, we have 15 children staying at our shelter. Your gift of $75 would buy a stuffed animal for all of them.
* Your gift of $50 provides three lessons in interviewing techniques for people who have been out of the workforce for some time. 85% of our clients got jobs after receiving lessons in interviewing techniques, and 75% still had their job two years later.
* 25 residents need lessons each month. Your gift of $100 provides lessons for two residents. Your gift of $500 provides lessons for ten residents. Your gift of $1,250 provides lessons for every resident for one month.

And so on…. People do tend to love to know what their money might do, and this allows you the chance to educate donors about some of your programs.

Incentives can also be value driven, for example:

“Your gift helps. No gift is too big or too small because every gift is put right to work helping a family in crisis.”

You can see that there are a lot of ways to suggest amounts without putting down small amounts and yet encouraging people who can to make big gifts.

Good luck!

–Kim Klein