Did I ever tell you about the fortuitous happenstance that taught me about the power of small gift fundraising? A few years ago I went to research something online. Not surprisingly, I ended up viewing the first entry Google gave me – which was on Wikipedia.
As luck would have it, and to my delight, I ran into an awesome fundraising campaign. [This is an occupational hazard with fundraisers. We actually like and admire things like pledge breaks when they’re done well!]
Here’s what I found superimposed at the top of the screen:
DEAR WIKIPEDIA READERS: To protect our independence, we’ll never run ads. We take no government funds. We survive on donations averaging about $15. Now is the time we ask. If everyone reading this right now gave $3, our fundraiser would be done within an hour. We’re a small non-profit with costs of a top 5 website: servers, staff and programs. If Wikipedia is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online and ad-free another year. Please help us forget fundraising and get back to Wikipedia. Thank you.
I was then given the option to make a one-time gift of $3, $5, $30 or $50, or a monthly gift of $10, $20, $100 or other.
It’s not all about major gifts for everyone.
The Wikipedia campaign serves as a great reminder. Even though many nonprofits survive by the grace of 3% of their donors providing 97% of their contributed income (or something closer to the 80/20 rule) there are indeed nonprofits that are exceptions to this rule (e.g., Heifer International raises about 80% of it’s funding from small donations; American Red Cross relies heavily on small donations during disasters). Wikimedia lives online and is a resource used extensively by the masses. So it makes sense to go to the masses online in order to fund their endeavor.
It worked on me!
No nonprofit should eschew small gift affinity fundraising.
Even if the lion’s share of your funding comes from major donors, I’m betting many of them started out as smaller givers. Whenever you can get a donor in the door, one with affinity for your cause, you should. And since I’m clearly using Wikipedia, I’m likely a good candidate when it comes to affinity.
NOTE: I’m distinguishing between affinity-based grassroots fundraising vs. transaction-based fundraising. The former occurs when a donor shares the values your organization enacts. The latter occurs when someone makes a one-time transaction in return for a value that’s not really related to your mission (e.g., a gift in exchange for a free tote bag; a gift that is really an auction or raffle ticket purchase; a gift that is really a golf tournament entry fee; a quid pro quo gift made because a friend is chairing a dinner dance, etc.). The transactional small gift is just that. A business deal. It doesn’t create loyal supporters or long-term sustenance for your organization. But not all new gifts need be transactional gifts. They can be akin to a great first date – and the prelude to a long, fruitful relationship.
So let’s take a mini-break from thinking about major gift fundraising (of which I’m a huge proponent — and, in fact, I’ll be offering my 8-week course on major gifts for small and medium-sized shops again in late summer; so watch for it. I’m even happy to put you on a waiting list to get first dibs if you ask me!).
Let’s look at 10 ways to succeed with small gift fundraising:
1. Your request must be perceived as more than reasonable.
This Wikipedia request is downright easy. If I give even just $3.00 I’ll feel good because that’s what was asked. It’s the epitome of an offer that can’t be refused.
2. Your small donor must be made to feel like a big shot.
In terms of what Wikipedia is asking, I can pick their very top category — $50 – and feel like a major donor. After all, it’s way beyond the $3 minimum requested and also more than three times their average gift. And I’m investing in journalistic independence – this makes me feel good!
3. Your ask must be targeted towards a specific goal.
In this case, it is to keep Wikipedia ad-free for another year. Often small gift campaigns are for special (e.g., disaster relief) or incremental (e.g., a new truck) needs. The best small gift campaigns are followed by subsequent small gift campaigns for different projects. As long as a legitimate case is made, and folks are engaged in a fresh way, donors will support multiple philanthropic opportunities in the course of the year – and give more overall than if asked to give for just one initiative. Or for just “unrestricted” support.
4. Your ask must be targeted to someone with affinity for the cause.
My response would’ve been different if a version of this same appeal were made on a site that advocated something I don’t believe in and/or have a use for. And even if for some reason I were persuaded to make a one-time small gift to a cause for which I have no real affinity, I wouldn’t be likely to repeat. In the long term, you want to put resources into acquiring donors you can renew.
5. Your ask must trigger impulse giving.
People don’t think a lot about small gifts; they don’t have the time for analysis and contemplation. You’ve got to capture folks’ interest, imagination and emotion in the moment; then trigger their impulse to respond in the affirmative (Social psychologist Robert Cialdini talks about this in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion). This caught my attention mid-research, and influenced me to give by offering a simple reason: because Wikipedia is useful to me.
6. Your donor must be able to easily and quickly respond.
Remember: small gifts tend to be impulse gifts. Anything that gets in the way of giving gets in the way of the impulse. Online giving has vastly facilitated small gift fundraising, making it possible for folks to give on a moment’s notice. But if your website is not optimized for mobile, or if your donor has to click multiple times to get to your donate form, or if you make them fill out to many fields and provide unnecessary information, you’re going to lose folks along the way.
7. Your organization must be able to secure contact information.
Otherwise, you won’t be able to properly appreciate the gift and report back to your donor so you can renew their support. Again, this is where online giving is great – and head and shoulders above getting donations dropped into a bucket at curbside. Or into a bin at a large stadium event. Think ahead about how you can capture contact info. You can’t follow up with folks unless you know who they are.
8. Your promotional platform of choice must reach your target audience.
Just building a great, user-friendly mousetrap (one that enables a quick response and captures meaningful donor information) is not enough. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If you have no Twitter traffic, then trying to raise money exclusively via Twitter may not make sense. Ditto Facebook, or any social media space. Start with your most trafficked spaces (usually your own website and email list); then layer on from there.
9. You must have an acknowledgement and reporting system in place.
After someone gives, you need to close the loop and assure your donor feels good about their gift. After I donated, Wikimedia immediately took me to a Thank You Landing Page that said:
Thank you for your support. Read about why other donors around the world support Wikipedia and its sister projects, or find out if your company has a corporate matching gift program. Tell the world that you support Wikimedia: tweet it with hashtag #keepitfree!
A the time there was also a video link on the page that led me to some testimonials by Wikimedia editors all over the world. Very compelling, interesting and totally feel good. I see the landing page now also makes it easy for folks to see if their company matches their gift, and gives people the opportunity to also take a survey. They started the stewardship right away, and I was interested to see what might follow. They didn’t disappoint. Shortly thereafter I received an emailed thank you that began with “You are wonderful Claire.” Wow!
10. Your campaign must be inexpensive to implement.
Unless you’re the exception (and stand to raise the lion’s share of your contributions from small gifts) you can’t lose sight of the fact you’ve got to guard your resources carefully, applying them where they will offer the greatest yield. This means creating a budget, including the costs associated with building a donor love and loyalty plan to set up your future gifts. There’s no point acquiring small donors only to lose them again. And the Fundraising Effectiveness Project shows only 23% of first-time donors renew. So don’t empty your wallet here. Diversify your contributed revenue sources. Just as small gifts play a role in your development marketing mix, major gifts do as well. Determine what the best mix is for your organization. Be realistic, and plan accordingly.
While major gift fundraising gets all the hype, thoughtfully planned small gift fundraising has a place in your marketing mix. Even if you’re not a ‘Top 5’ online website like Wikipedia, you can effectively use small gift campaigns to acquire new supporters and as a gateway to engage current supporters at higher levels of support. After all, the more frequently someone gives to you, the more likely they are to feel invested. In fact, many of the best legacy gifts come from annual supporters who made numerous small gifts during their lifetimes.
What do you think is the best mix of small and large gift fundraising?
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Photo: Flickr, Alicia Bernal
Claire, thanks for writing this article! We are a small non-profit and have some “major gifts” but over half of our gifts are small, but loyal donors. Several of these wonderful supporters have left bequests in their wills to us and these were much larger gifts than their previous donations might have indicated.
All donors are important and should be stewarded with gratitude.