Developing small donors into big fish

Corporate donations, major gifts and bequests are necessary, but nonprofits rely on donors. And more donors. And more donors. Even donors who start out small are important, because they can become bigger donors over time.

During the recent Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International Conference on Fundraising, Jessica Ramirez of the Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) and Sandy Macnab of Alexander Macnab & Co., said that big gifts can come from those who gave modestly the first time. They offered the following as examples:

  • The top five categories of the ChiArts giving pyramid (which has seven levels) account for 10 percent of donors but 60 to 70 percent of income.
  • For each ChiArts Excalibur (the sixth level) gift there were three Diamond Circle (fifth level) donors the previous year.
  • For each ChiArts Diamond Circle gift there were three to four Ruby (fourth) level gifts the previous year.
  • A new donor of $25, if well stewarded (thanked quickly and told how a gift was used) might give $50 in year two, $65 in year three. Of that group, 30 donors have the potential to begin contributing $125 in year three or year four. Of those 30, two or three have the potential to being contributing $1,000 or more in a few years. At least one could leave a bequest.

Remember: Prospecting is expensive. Plan to spend more money acquiring new donors than they will contribute in year one. After one year, donors more than pay for themselves.