Little Gestures with Big Fundraising Implications

It’s the little things that count.

Everyone in fundraising knows what this well-worn but endearing phrase means — in theory. But in the rush to meet this month’s or this quarter’s ambitious goal, the little things are more often ignored or glossed over than recognized for the powerful fundraising tools that they are.

Years ago, I and my colleagues at a prominent arts organization were invited to a party in the penthouse home of a prominent major donor. A Picasso hung in the guest bathroom – need I say more?

During a lull in the conversation, I found myself gazing at our donor-host’s collection of books, quietly shelved in the corner of the den. I noticed an unusually large number of books of quotations and riddles, revealing a quirky side of this interesting donor’s personality.

One day several weeks later, I found myself in another city with a couple of hours to spare. I happened to wander into a used bookstore and came across four paperbacks full of brain teasers like, I am the beginning of the end, and the end of time and space. I am essential to creation, and I surround every place. What am I?

The books were in mint condition, possibly unappreciated stocking stuffers that eventually found their way via a garage sale to this dingy destination. They were selling for the princely sum of 25 cents each. I bought all four, tied them together with a brightly colored ribbon, and mailed them to my donor with a one-sentence note: These caught my eye while I was wandering through a used bookstore in Seattle.

A week later I picked up an animated voicemail message from my surprised and delighted donor. Two months later, he offered the lead, naming gift on our biggest ever capital campaign. Ah, the little things.

The little things can trip you up, too, and send a surefire win in the wrong direction.

A good friend of mine has become the full-time caregiver to his wife of forty years. While this role has limited his world, it has also intensified his empathy for others. One of the ways in which he shows that empathy is through giving. Not-for-profits who reach out to him through the mail, over the phone or at his door get his considered attention.

When his doorbell rang yesterday, my friend left his wife’s side to see who was there. A representative from a prominent not-for-profit was on the other side of the door…talking on his cell phone. When my friend said, “Hello, how can I help you?”, the rep raised his index finger as if to say, “Wait a minute while I finish this call”.

Ah, the little things…and the power they wield. They can jettison fundraising to new heights or bring it to its knees.

Share your little things that made a difference in fundraising – whether positive or negative — below in the comments section or on Twitter @penelopeburk


Showing 3 comments
  • Graham

    Thanks Penelope….it seems that the ‘little things’ can so easily become Big Things! Witness the seeming direct connection between a bundle of used books and a lead gift! Pretty big!
    In my experience, there is no such thing as a little thing; every donor interaction matters and fundraisers will rarely know what tips the balance in a relationship, most importantly the one that goes sour…the donor just disappears and the charity may never know why.

  • Larry

    A new newsletter was created to provide stories and updates about gift outcomes. For the inaugural newsletter, a personal handwritten note was provided by our organization’s CEO thanking a major donor (six figure gifts) for his vision and welcoming him to the new newsletter. The donor who received the special note called a friend of our foundation and said he now wanted to talk about making another gift. He had not received such a personal handwritten note in years and was excited by the relationship.

  • WyEtte

    Another reference to the many things involved in successful people’s lives. Whether you are a giver or a recipient, being gracious correctly translated, in any language, is love. To find it in everyone is often a difficult endeavor. Few say thanks when someone recognizes the effort Penelope has reviewed. Why … rerely does one know what pushes a decision, but you can be sure of that one or many actions that prevented a successful result. Recognizing this is true humility…the first stepping stone to great success.

Leave a Comment