The other day one of the nonprofits we work with shared the thrilling news that they had received a $1 million planned gift. The news became even more exciting when we learned about the giving history of the donor who made this ultimate gift. 

The donor’s first gift? $10 in response to a direct mail letter. This donor went on to give 29 times over the next 12 ½ years. However, she never gave more than $15. In other words, this donor was your typical “low dollar donor.” And yet she ended up making a gift of $1 million. Incredible! 

What can we learn from this story?

Treat All Donors Like the Heroes They Are

Donors are simply amazing! Take a moment to think about it: Donors choose to give money to your organization. That’s money they could have spent in a hundred different ways or put in their bank account for the future. Instead, they chose to donate that money to your nonprofit, because they believe so passionately in your cause. 

Donors should be treated with respect and appreciation. That includes lower dollar donors. Too often, nonprofits look down upon their low dollar donors. Some even ignore these donors and remove them from mailings in an attempt to save money and focus on “better” donors. This is a short-sighted strategy that is disrespectful of your supporters, and it will ultimately hurt your nonprofit.

Thank All Donors

Treating all donors like the heroes they are starts with sending a thank you letter for a donation of any amount. Don’t cut off sending thank you letters at a certain dollar amount. Every single donor that sends in a gift deserves a thank you letter that is personal and makes the donor feel as special as she is. It is an important first step to building a long-term relationship with the donor.  

Include Lower Dollar Donors in Your Communications

Yes, you can likely save money in the short term by removing lower dollar donors from your solicitations. That might help you look good today, but it will backfire in the long run. 

When you stop sending mail to donors, you are choosing to end a relationship with donors who believe passionately in your cause. The problem is you never know which donor may end up making a large gift or leaving you in their will for a significant amount. That’s why the best nonprofits communicate with all donors, including smaller dollar donors

Recognize the Power of Direct Mail

For years and years, people thought direct mail would disappear and be replaced by newer channels like email and social media.

What we have instead learned is that direct mail is here to stay. It is important to recognize that direct mail is not just an effective fundraising channel, it is also a way to build stronger relationships with supporters. Direct mail is very often the main source of communication between a nonprofit and a donor.

Direct mail is effective because it feels personal. Donors like to receive mail and trust what they receive in the mail more than other channels. 

The very best nonprofit direct mail programs understand that their goal is not just to generate income today, but also to build relationships with donors so that income increases in the future. A successful program will inspire donors to upgrade to the major gift level and/or leave a planned gift.  

Have a Planned Giving Program

All nonprofits, regardless of size, should have a planned giving program, or be working towards setting one up. The benefits can be enormous for both donors and for your organization. It is not an exaggeration to say that these gifts can transform the future of your nonprofit.

Remember that the biggest indicator of which donor might make a planned give is their loyalty. That is often best shown by the number of years a donor has been giving to a nonprofit, and their frequency of giving. That’s why smaller dollar donors who give consistently should grab the attention of your planned giving team members. The average planned gift is 200 to 300 times larger than a donor’s largest annual gift.

Smart nonprofits take a long-term approach to their fundraising. They seek to make all of their donors feel important, not just because this is good fundraising, but because they know all donors truly are important.