Don’t Underestimate the $5 Donor

Date Published
Kathy Giles

When a large gift comes in there is a ripple of excitement that goes through the organization: a celebration of the donor and his/her generosity, as well as the impact that gift will have on the mission.

All this excitement is expected and well deserved.

But what about all those gifts that don’t rise to this level. All those $50, $25, and even $5 gifts that come in each day that don’t generate the high fives that a gift with a few zeros does. 

These donations and the donors who give them are the backbone of most organizations. These low-dollar donors allow the transformational gifts to…transform.

There is a harmony that is struck between Annual Fund (or low-dollar donors) and major giving. When the annual fund is growing and able to support the daily expenses of an organization, it allows a major gift to focus on what it was intended for like funding a new program, equipment, or a new building, helping to transform the organization and further the mission. 

But, if the annual fund is struggling to meet the needs of the everyday expenses, then major donors are tapped to function as a stopgap to help keep the organization going.

Low-dollar donors not only provide balance to an organization’s annual budget; they are prospects for other giving opportunities, feeding into monthly giving, mid-level, planned giving, and major gifts.

These so-called low-dollar donors have endless potential. But you must treat them with respect and help them realize their potential. How do you do this?

Say Thank You – and do it quickly!

  • The best way to make a donor feel appreciated is to acknowledge his/her gift. It is easier said than done, but get the thank you letter out within two weeks of gift receipt, preferably one week.
  • Tailor the acknowledgment to fit the reason for the gift by creating unique letters for each appeal. This way you will thank the donor with similar language to that which got them to donate.
  • Acknowledgments are an important part of the donor relationship, and it does take a well-oiled machine to do it well. If you need support to make improvements, look to your fundraising partners and ask how they might help with getting these important “thank you’s” out on time.

Provide opportunities to give

  • Because low-dollar donors are prospects for all other giving programs, provide them with opportunities to give in an efficient and effective way.
  • If there is a concern about the ROI of the $5 to $15 donors, try segmenting them out in the next few campaigns to better understand performance. It could be that you are breaking even on these segments. If so, you can cut back on the number of appeals you mail these donors, sending them three appeals instead of six. Or maybe send them just the pillar campaign – the strongest campaign of the year. This will allow you to keep them engaged while protecting your revenue. Understanding how these donors perform can help you build more efficiencies into your program, while maintaining your donor base.
  • If you have a follow-up mailing as part of a campaign, omit donors giving less than $20 from the follow-up. You will still reach these important donors with the initial mailing but will allow the follow-up to cut back on quantity, improve costs and ROI, and put in place more efficiencies for a more effective campaign. 
  • Include email as part of the communication plan and offer low-dollar donors an opportunity to give through an alternative channel.
  • Donors who give multiple small gifts in a single year are terrific prospects for Sustainer conversion efforts.
  • Show donors the path to mid-level and major giving and invite them to increase their investment in your organization, targeting donors ready for the next step. They will not know that these options exist if you do not show them.
  • Don’t forget about planned giving. Low-dollar donors are prime prospects for planned giving, especially bequests. Look for donors with strong loyalty and consistent giving and tell them how they can leave a legacy.

So, don’t write off the $5 donors, embrace them because their potential is endless. But you do have to help them to see what they can become. And don’t forget to thank them if you want to keep them. 

About the Author:
Kathy Giles
Director of Client Management, Agency Services

Role at the Company

As an Account Director with Agency Services I work with clients to develop their direct response, annual giving, and membership programs. I am responsible for the strategy, budget, creative oversight, planning, and results reporting for each campaign as well as ensuring we are meeting all client expectations. I also work to build the client relationship to not only retain the client, but to also look for opportunities to increase activities with clients, through any of our three business areas. And new business is always on the radar!

What excites you about your work at AFG?

With the three divisions, we have more opportunities to support our clients. We can extend the services offered to provide more full-service-oriented solutions to current and prospective clients, allowing AFG to become more involved with a client’s program. This also allows for more growth and learning, on a personal note.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

To feed my love of stories and storytelling, I went to school for film production, with a concentration in documentary film. I have had the opportunity to work on a few documentaries including one for the United Nations on the history of interpretation where I was able to visit several embassies and spoke with the amazing people in the UN Interpretation Service.

Today, I get to tell the stories of the non-profit clients I work with.

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