November 21, 2015

The Gift of Small Potatoes

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Giving Tuesday and the year-end is nearly here. How will you acknowledge the financial gifts you’ve been planning for?

Gift of Small Potatoes

My friend, a personal philanthropist, showed me a thank you card she received after making a four-figure gift to a charitable organization.

"Even though it's signed," she began, "it's a form letter. For a gift of this size, I would expect a more personal response, even if it's from one of the staff or a board member. To me, this says my donation is no more important than a $50 gift."

She lamented "I know my gift is not as large as others they receive; I'm just small potatoes. But my small potatoes could have significant impact for another organization. This was a sacrifice for me."

$1,000 or $ 2,500 may seem like small potatoes to your organization. To the donor, a $2,500 gift could have significant impact when given to a particular organization, or in this case be a minor gift when contributed to a capital or major gifts campaign.

Perhaps a change of perspective is in order. Instead of thinking of a financial donation as a gift, consider it a sacrifice that an individual made to support your cause and advance your mission.

She concluded, "I don't expect recognition, that's not why I give. But I don't like how this has made me feel."

Giving Tuesday and the year-end is nearly here. How will you acknowledge the financial gifts you’ve been planning for? 

  • Say Thank You. First, fast, and foremost.
  • Think acknowledgement first, and if appropriate, donor recognition second. An individual may forget what you do or say in response to their gift, but they won't forget how you made them feel.
  • Does every gift receive a thank you letter or note? Does every gift receive the same letter? If so, at what level does the executive director or an advancement officer write a brief personal note to acknowledge the donor's gift? At what level do they receive a personal phone call? When does a board member acknowledge the gift—and are they aware that the should be doing so?
  • Do you have a threshold for which acknowledgments are given special attention? Are $5,000 gifts acknowledged in a different manner than a $50 dollar gift?
  • Do you consider what kind of sacrifice their gift means to the donor?
  • Touch your donor's heart. Their decision to give was made with their mind, but their gift is from the heart. Think of your donor and how your gift acknowledgment (or lack of) will make them feel. Your response could determine the potential for future giving—possibly in greater ways—or cause the donor to consider how their gift could have impact elsewhere.
  • For special campaigns (such as a capital or major gift campaign), do you acknowledge gifts differently than you do for general operating support? Have you created custom thank you cards that carry the theme of the campaign, or an image representing the outcome for which you are raising funds?

Download the complementary sample chapter, "Be Grateful," from Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto.

The way in which you acknowledge a donor's financial sacrifice will leave an impression that will last for years. Consider what the gift means to the giver. Call and ask why the gift was made — you'll understand your donor in a more meaningful way, and nurture the relationship in a profound an meaningful way.

Would you rather have a donor sharing why they are disappointed with how their gift was acknowledged, or how thoughtful they thought it was when you called them?

By all appearances, they are making a financial donation that on the surface seems to be a transaction. 

What the donor is really giving you is their trust and goodwill, and sharing their desire for generosity. They are placing a part of themselves into your hands as a way of standing for your cause and deepening their relationship with you.

You can harvest more potatoes. How you acknowledge their gift may be the last time you are able to earn their trust and loyalty.

Image by Laura Musikanski.


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