Ten years ago, I spent 10 weeks living in Manhattan, happily working as an intern at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). A bit of an anomaly among my fellow arts administration graduate students, I knew that I wanted to work in fundraising. And here I was working in the Capital Campaign department of one of the top museums in the world. I learned many, many valuable things during my time at MoMA – development best practices, systems and processes – that I still use to this day, but one nugget stuck more than any other:
“There are no small gifts.”
Those were the words I heard from the then senior deputy director of external affairs. When you are in charge of raising funds for an $858 million capital campaign, a statement like, “There are no small gifts,” is both profound and disarming. Let’s be real. You need some pretty large donations to reach a nine-figure campaign goal. However, he was right. Nobody has to donate money to your organization. Every donation is truly a gift. This is what makes an event like The Big Give SA a special opportunity for San Antonio.
Based on the Giving USA 2013 report on charitable giving in the U.S., 72 per cent of all giving came from individuals, to the tune of $229 billion in contributions in 2012. I am always surprised to hear the general public say that they believe most charitable support comes from the government or corporations. Quite the opposite. It is us, our friends, our families, our neighbors, who support each community’s essential nonprofit organizations. And it is not only the very wealthy people who give, but many people of ordinary means who believe and support a cause regardless of their income. It is also true that there are no small donors. Every donation demonstrates one person’s support for your nonprofit’s mission. That really is a significant gesture when you stop to think about it.
Admittedly, I’m a bit of a crowdfunding campaign junkie. I love the concept of pulling in donors from all walks of life to support a cause, oftentimes hundreds of donors giving relatively small sums.
Crowdfunding is inherently democratic and inclusive. At the two previous nonprofits I worked, I implemented these types of campaigns. The campaigns were custom-made for the organizations, built and managed in-house, and spanned anywhere from two weeks to a month. The dollars raised were not huge, but we did acquire a large quantity of donors, many of whom were new.
To cite one example, referring to the “I Heart Arthouse” campaign shown in the first column of the chart, 184 of those 279 donors were first-time donors to the organization. Not only did we capture a bunch of new constituents for our database, but those people willingly gave their contact information with a gift of $5 or greater.
Everything changed in 2013 with Amplify Austin, the city’s first online giving day. A fundraising strategy was carefully created for Leadership Austin, and in the end, we far exceeded our $10,000 fundraising goal by raising $24,065, plus earned an additional $6,000 in bonus prizes. Yes, we developed a good strategy and worked our action plan, but the real lesson was that the community working together to raise funds was stronger and more successful than doing it on our own. These online giving days provide the best example of “a rising tide lifts all boats.” By riding the momentum of the citywide effort, this relatively small nonprofit – with an operating budget well under $1 million – had a huge 24 hours. Mark my words, The Big Give SA will be an exciting day for San Antonio.
To kickoff the giving, a check for $224,000 was presented by local businesses and foundations at a press conference on the steps of City Hall Monday afternoon (see top image). This seed money will go towards prizes that local nonprofits will compete for, while $150,000 will go to three charter schools. The Big Give SA’s goal is to raise $1 million in one day.
I am a fundraiser because I believe in philanthropy. Merriam-Webster defines “philanthropy” as “goodwill to fellow members of the human race” or “an act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes.” More simply, I define philanthropy as an expression of helping others. I take exception to those who equate fundraisers to salespeople. Salespeople close transactions where money is paid for a good or service. Fundraisers cultivate relationships to promote philanthropy for a charitable cause.
The nonprofit I call home, the Briscoe Western Art Museum, is a project that came together through the philanthropic support of many donors, both private and public. We are so grateful to the San Antonio and South Texas community who believe and financially support our mission to preserve and interpret the art, history, and culture of the American West. Our admission price is low, school tours are free, and public program offerings are diverse, because we want to be accessible for all.
In the spirit of giving back and in celebration of philanthropy, the Briscoe Museum will open its doors to the city on the day of The Big Give SA, May 6, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission will be free to one and all.
I hope the people of San Antonio come and experience our brand new museum. All of us who work here truly consider the museum a community resource for educational and cultural learning for locals and tourists alike. And if you visit on May 6 and decide you like it so much that you choose to make a Big Give donation to the Briscoe Museum, that would be pretty great, too.
Regardless of which nonprofits you choose to donate to on May 6, understand that your gift represents the spirit of giving we all share.
I guarantee you that your donation, no matter the dollar amount, is significant to that recipient 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The minimum gift that will be accepted on The Big Give SA website is $10. For many of us, that’s easily one lunch or one handcrafted cocktail or one movie ticket. Our nonprofit organizations in health, human services, arts and culture, environmental, animal rights, social justice, and education are what make our communities vibrant, healthy, connected, and rich. There are no small gifts. May 6 is your chance to Give Big.
*Featured/top image: So far, 467 agencies have registered with Big Give SA and $224,000 given in prize money and matching grants. Photo courtesy of the Woodlawn Theatre – one of the participating nonprofits.