Looking solely at the dollars, it’s easy to discount the value of small donations. But seasoned fundraisers say pint-sized gifts can still pack a punch.
Jackson economics analyst and writer Jonathan Schechter looked at 2017 tax returns to get a sense of who is giving and how much. What he found is startling.
The bulk of reported charitable giving in Teton County — 96% — came from 13% of households with incomes of more than $200,000 a year. In raw terms those households accounted for $224 million of the total $232 million reported for Teton County.
“We don’t know where those donations were made,” Schechter said. “They could have been made anywhere in the world to any tax-deductible nonprofit.”
Yet despite that “sheer math,” Schechter said, “the importance of smaller donors isn’t necessarily in the dollars that they give.”
Indeed, fundraisers stress that small gifts can lead to bigger ones and enthusiastic donors bring energy to a project — no matter the size of their gift.
Shawn Meisel, a fundraising consultant who has worked for a variety of Jackson Hole organizations, recalled how during her time at the National Museum of Wildlife Art she connected with donors who started giving in the $25 range. She reached out to thank them and invite them on a museum tour. They had the capacity to give more and eventually did.
“They’re dipping their toe in the pond,” she said. “They want to see … will you talk to them at $50 or $100.”
A personalized thank-you can mean more at a $25 to $50 giving level because it’s less expected, she said.
Bigger donors are also quick to ask an organization how many donors they have overall, according to Jackson Hole Land Trust President Laurie Andrews.
“The small donors’ energy gets the big donors excited,” Andrews said.
The passion of individuals giving small amounts — with some pitching in more than once — powered the trust’s recent Save the Block campaign, which raised $7 million from roughly 5,700 single-dollar to million-dollar donors. All the gifts showed the community was invested, literally, in preserving the character of the downtown Cafe Genevieve block, Andrews said.
Modest gifts can also mean a lot to the fundraisers themselves. Jackson Hole filmmaker Jennifer Tennican relies on fundraising to produce films about the Jackson Hole community. Her latest film, “Hearts of Glass,” features the early stages of Vertical Harvest, which, along with providing year-round produce, offers meaningful employment for community members with disabilities.
“It’s meant a lot to me, with the film about disability, is there have been a number of people, self advocates with disabilities, who have donated to the film, and maybe they’ve donated $5 or $10,” Tennican said. Those advocates typically have extremely modest incomes, making their donations especially significant to Tennican.
Likewise, Andrews said: “The small gifts, they all have stories, and they motivate us.”
There’s also value in making a contribution for the givers themselves.
“Everybody wants to belong to something,” Meisel said. “When you live in a town like Jackson, sometimes the price of belonging is pretty high. Membership for low, basic donations gives people a way to belong to something.”
People can also pool small amounts to do more good than they can do on their own.
Last spring, with abundant snow remaining on Snow King Mountain well into April, uphill users banded together with Exum Mountain Guides to raise $3,000 to pay for grooming — priced at about $1,000 a week — even after the mountain closed its lifts. Snow King matched their enthusiasm by donating a fourth week of grooming.
Exum guide Brenton Reagan led the charge by organizing a raffle at Cowboy Coffee, where people packed the house.
“I saw so many different types of people,” he said. “The demographic was outstandingly all over the place.”
By the end of the evening, raffle tickets netted $2,805 while beverage sales brought in $150. A single donor contributed the rest.
For Reagan each raffle ticket sold at the grooming fundraiser counted as a vote of confidence in the new spring ritual.
“It took the people to do it,” he said. “We the people did it 5 bucks at a time.”