A few weeks ago, we celebrated National Philanthropy Day. It’s an occasion to reflect upon the magic that happens when donors connect with the causes that matter to them. And often, it’s the large gifts we celebrate: the million dollar donation to the local hospital, or the volunteer who spearheads a $100 million capital campaign.

Not that these gifts aren’t worth celebrating. They are. But we tend to lose sight of the importance of celebrating our regular donors, those who are giving gifts of $5 or $10 whenever they can afford it.

Here’s this month’s tip: Spend the extra time it takes to properly thank and steward your ”small” donors. You may be surprised at the results.

Refugee on disability gives every year

At the Ottawa Philanthropy Awards last year, the recipient of the Outstanding Individual Philanthropist Award was an incredible woman named Tereza Top. Tereza is a Sudanese-born Canadian who has overcome many barriers in her life: she faced a devastating war before fleeing to Canada, and had to deal with a diagnosis of schizophrenia soon after landing here.

Tereza lives on a disability pension, but that doesn’t stop her from being a donor. Each year, she diligently saves her money so that she can donate $500 to each of five different charities.

Generous in proportion to income

One of many remarkable things about Tereza’s story is that the charities that she supports noticed her particular generosity. As a proportion of her income, she may be one of the most generous donors in Canada, but typically, a $500 donor is not one about whom press releases are issued and articles are written.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those donors who give small amounts a few times a year – donors like Tereza who scrimp and save because supporting their favourite charities is important to them.

Over the past week, I’ve been asking fundraisers about their “small” donors. I wanted to know about how they treat them and the value of those donors, and I’ve asked for their stories.

“Small” donors make a big difference

I’ve heard of $2 donors leaving $500,000 bequests; $2 donors increasing their giving after being cultivated and stewarded; $2 donors acting as “sneezers” (spreading the word about the charity to others around them), and I’ve been told, passionately, how important these folks are.

When you think about it, it makes sense. Here we are investing $30 or $40 for each new donor we bring on board (less than half of whom will give a second gift). Why wouldn’t we invest in our $2 donors as well?

Many charities don’t offer receipts (unless asked) for those donors who give small gifts; others don’t bother with a thank-you. They claim that they lose money by sending these to their $2 donors. Well, that’s true, but they lose a lot less than what they invest in acquiring a brand new donor.

How to treat your $2 donor

Here are some ways you can treat your $2 donors. I urge you to try some of them and let me know what happens:

    • Send them a personalized thank-you and tax receipt;
    • Invite them to your annual donor reception;
    • Treat them the same way you treat your $2,000 donors;
    • Recognized them for their loyalty (do you have a donor who’s given $2 a year for 10 years? That’s worth celebrating!);
    • List them in your annual report (particularly for their loyalty);
    • Take advantage of the relatively low cost of social media and email to thank them; and
    • Choose two or three of them to call each week for a personal thank-you.

Lee Rose, president of the board for the Ten Oaks Project, says that it’s thanks to donors under $10 that Ten Oaks placed second in the 2009 Canada Helps Giving Challenge. “The goal wasn’t to raise a huge pile of money; it was really about building awareness and tapping our networks to build relationships with new donors. It was a great way to engage with our program participants, who encouraged all of their friends to give $1, $5, or $10, as we were aiming for the prize for most individual donations. We used Facebook and Twitter, as well as our e-newsletter mailing list to get people in on it.”

Ten Oaks also used Facebook, Twitter and its website to thank their donors and express gratitude for their generosity. Many of those donors have gone on to become regular supporters.

The evidence is clear: investing time (and sometimes money) in those donors giving less than $10 is well worth the effort.

This post was written by Leah Eustace, ACFRE, former Principal and Chief Idea Goddess at Good Works. It originally appeared in the Hilborn eNews.