Why you cannot afford to ignore even your smallest donors

by Stephen Tall on March 22, 2010

The widow’s mite. It’s a story with which everyone’s familiar. Your generosity is not determined by the absolute value of your gift, but by it’s relative value. For example, a person on the minimum wage donating £100 is more generous than Lord Ashcroft donating £1m.

It’s a good moral. But there’s also a very practical reason why fundraisers should learn to appreciate the widow’s mite. Because while most widows will have few liquid cash assets with which to be generous, the chances are they may have a good few illiquid capital assets to bequeath come the time.

Earlier this month, the US media was buzzing with the story of ‘Amazing’ Grace Groner: a “woman who lived modestly leaves $7 million for Lake Forest College” noted NBCChicago.com:

She lived in a one-bedroom house in Lake Forest and worked for Abbott Laboratories as a secretary for 43 years. Groner never felt the urge to keep up with the lavish Lake Forest lifestyle, but she did splurge occasionally.

Groner began donating small amounts of money toward small scholarship program at the college, and always said she planned on donating more after passing away, but nobody expected her contribution to be in the millions.

The source of her wealth, it turns out, emanates from $180 stock purchase she made in 1935. She consistently reinvested her earnings and grew the purchase into a $7 million fortune.

About the same time I first read that story, I noticed this one, 10 Donations. 3 Thank-Yous. 7 Failures to Communicate, at Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications blog:

On December 9, 2009, I gave $20 donations to 10 national nonprofits I had previously never donated to by converting credit card miles into cash donations … It’s been a month, and I’ve heard from only three of the 10 organizations. This is the same result as last year, when I got four thank-yous in response to 12 gifts. It was a pitiful response then, and a pitiful response today.

I won’t beat you over the head with the conclusion, but four questions:

1) Are you ensuring even your smallest gifts receive a personal thank you note within a week of the gift being received?
2) Do you know when next even your smallest donor will be invited to an event at your institution, or receive a further personalised mailing from you?
3) Have you got a system in place for asking your smallest donors to give again – and, ideally, to give regularly – to your institution?
4) And have you worked out who’s going to talk to them about leaving a legacy gift, and when?

If your answers to those questions is no, remember: it might just be costing you $7m.