You may remember the story from earlier this year of a homeless man who was blessed each week with a meal provided by a ministry at First United Methodist Church of Charlotte; one Sunday he decided to give back. Written on the back of an offering envelope he wrote, “Please don’t be mad, I don’t have much. I’m homeless. God Bless.” Rev. Patrick Hamrick, their Finance Minister says he was equally stunned by the words and the contribution [YouTube video below].
The story captured the heart of the nation and much of the world as the story spread through social media. With all the media attention there came offers of recognition but he chose to stay anonymous. His gift was sacrificial and from his heart – it’s a modern day example of the Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41-44).
No one could argue that Jesus was pleased because of the honor and humility his gift held. It was a true sacrifice. It can be easy when the fundraising pressure is heavy, to open a check or review your recent online donations and see amounts that are small and feel a bit crestfallen. Many of your strategies may be built around cultivating major gifts. The danger of becoming jaded or worse, to propagate a culture of “organization-centric” fundraising vs. one that is “donor-centric” is real and requires diligence to avoid.
Recognize Your Small Gifts
When the bottom line becomes the focus, smaller gifts can easily become a part of the background and be lost in the shadow of the large donations you may be receiving. It’s imperative to maintain your perspective on the beauty of every gift.
I have the privilege of volunteering and supporting a local non-profit here in Spokane called, Big Table. Big Table’s missing is to see the lives of those working in the restaurant and hospitality industry transformed by building community around shared meals and caring for those who are in crisis, transition, or falling through the cracks. I’ve had the chance to talk with some of the servers who have benefited from the care of Big Table. On more than one occasion they shared that after receiving the care of Big Table they in turn start donating; they want to pay it forward for the next person. One server told me, “It’s not always easy to make that donation each month, but I know how it important it is because I’ve experienced their care first hand.”
Cultivating Those Small Gift
Small gifts need to be honored not only because they are a beautiful sacrifice, but sometimes they can represent someone who is invested in your organization’s mission but may be hesitant to give more. They may need to know a bit more about you. They may want to see how you received their initial gift and what you will do with it.
When these donors are swept up into an autopilot program of “thank yous” and email newsletters you are missing an important opportunity to build relationship. This is why having a strategic plan to connect with donors to find out what motivated their gift is a must. Engage with those passion points from the onset and follow up with meaningful ways their donation made an impact. When you build this type of relational foundation with your donors the opportunity to make a deeper investment becomes a much more natural conversation – the donor feels heard, known, and their donation (no matter how small) has been honored. This creates a perception that colors all your efforts and communications. Much like any first impression does. Is this a big time commitment? It is. However; starting that stewardship investment right will pay dividends down the road.
A ‘Thanks’ That Has Impact
You all know the importance of a timely gift acknowledgement… you’ve read the blog posts already. You’ve got this down. But is your thank you saying “Thank you for your money, it helps us do more stuff” or are you saying, “Thank you. Your gift is treasured.” Donors need a bit of both and there are a variety of ways you can accomplish this: the language you choose to use in your acknowledgements, is it perfunctory or heartfelt? Incorporate meaningful images of your organization fulfilling its mission or provide a token of some kind the donor can display to remind them of their connection and partnership with your organization. No matter how you choose to convey your gratitude, make sure it is passionate, sincere, and meeting the donor where they are at.