By: Nancy E. Peterman, Partner
“Can we require a minimum gift to a campaign?” The question I was asked was unusual. The caller, co-chair of a local organization, wanted to know if we had ever recommended requiring a minimum gift level for a capital campaign. This organization had initiated a capital campaign several years ago, which had experienced great success in moving through the flooring and lead gift phases, and was now in its public phase. Although early gifts to the campaign had been generous, many of the recent gifts were small, and well below expectations of the volunteer leadership committee.
Campaigns are all about the big gifts. We know from our experience and from the data kept by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education that the top ten gifts account for almost half of the campaign goal for a campaign of the size ($10,000,000) that this organization had undertaken. This organization had ambitions to grow and needed funding for new and renovated facilities. The sense of urgency was compounded by a growing demand for its services, and a need to provide updated technology and adequate learning spaces for its existing population of students.
When asked what prompted the question, I was told that the campaign committee felt that certain individuals needed a giving guide. Several donors, who were known to have great wealth capacity, had made what were judged by the organization to be token gifts. The suggestion had come from a committee member who thought that requiring a $5,000 minimum gift would compel these donors to give at that level or higher. Since all members of the committee were donors of significant means, the suggestion resonated with them. Further, it was thought that the time, effort, processing and postage costs incurred in acknowledging very small gifts would cost the organization more than it netted.
The answer to this question is, of course, yes, the organization can do this. Any organization can set a threshold amount for its campaign efforts. In fact, some organizations have set minimum levels to establish an endowment or to restrict a gift. This organization could very well state that gifts of less than $5,000 would count toward their annual giving program and that gifts of $5,000 or above would go to the campaign. But, the concern might be that this would be offensive to a number of donors, certainly to those who may not have the means to make that size gift, and perhaps to others as well. Many of their donors had already committed to the annual fund, and were making a second gift in response to a campaign solicitation.
So, a better strategy to encourage gifts at or above the $5,000 level might be to make that the threshold amount for recognition on the donor wall. Further, I suggested that they revisit their solicitation strategy for those whom the committee considered to have means. Campaign phases overlap, and even though they were employing channels such as direct mail and email for solicitation in the public phase, they could continue having face-to-face meetings and asking for a specific gift at a level commensurate with capacity and expectations. And finally, nothing would preclude the committee from going back to those who had already committed and requesting consideration of an additional campaign gift. One of the benefits of a campaign, particularly in the public phase, is to stimulate more giving from a greater number of donors, and gifts of all sizes should be encouraged and welcomed. In the end, all gifts should matter.