You are NOT the Lone Donor

The Lone Donor

The Lone Donor: Bringing justice to an unjust world

Sometimes when solicited for donations, it can feel like the future of the world is in your hands and yours alone. But you know you don’t have the means to provide that billion dollar grant the organization really needs, and at best maybe you can give a few dollars because that’s all you have left in your wallet this week. So I ask the question plaguing most non-mega-philanthropists: Does my small donation matter at all?

This is something I ask myself all the time. Whether I’m donating $5 to a capital campaign or just holding the door for someone at the supermarket, I wonder if my tiny gesture makes any difference in the larger scheme of things? What good can my $5 possibly do for an organization? Did that person even notice I held for door for her?

The obvious answer is that my small donation does little at all. And on the surface, this answer might be true. $5 won’t contribute meaningfully to an employee’s salary, it won’t pay for more than a meal for a hungry child, and I’ll bet it won’t even cover the amount it cost the organization to send me the campaign material in the first place. Nope- $5 is meaningless.

But my guess is that at a closer look, there is something greater going on with my small donation. Studies show that approximately two-thirds of all charitable giving is made up of smaller donations. This demonstrates the value of the collective in more ways than one. If nearly two-thirds of all charity comes from individual donors like myself, you have to ask yourself what would happen to that bucket if you stopped giving? Playing devil’s advocate, however, I would then argue: Your $5 donation is still meaningless- It’s the people donating in the hundreds and thousands that are contributing to the real bulk of charitable giving.

Maybe the answer to understanding how small donations make an impact is by actually thinking even bigger. Think about yourself as only one representative of millions of donors just like you. According to Habitat for Humanity, “a $10 donation buys a box of nails that will help to build a home for a needy family.”  While one box of nails is rather useless in building an entire house, you need to remember that you’re not the only one giving a box of nails. It’s thanks to people like you and me, the small (albeit very small) donors that Habitat has enough nails to build an entire house.

If you’re looking for the satisfaction of knowing that you alone made a dream into a reality (say, evacuating Hurricane Sandy victims), then you may be right not to bother donating $5. But if you’re happy to be part of the millions of people giving together to make things happen, then your small donation is absolutely worth it.

The key is to stop thinking of yourself as the lone donor, carrying the weight of the nonprofit world on his shoulders. If everyone gives what they can, change will happen.

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1 comment
  1. Not only are you not the lone donor, but you are also one of many faithful donors. Because if you give a box of nails (or its equivalent) this year, and then the same the next year, then maybe you’ll give a hammer in 4 years, then perhaps a chainsaw in 8 years, and by the time you’re 35, you’ll be giving this wonderful organization which does so much good the resources to procure appliances for the houses being built, which, along with those other faithful donors giving alongside you all these years, will become homes for those blown out of their houses in the next hurricane. And, if the charitable organization plays it right, they will remember to talk to you when you’re older and thinking about your legacy on this earth after you are gone, and they will ask you: would you consider leaving 2% of your estate to this organization which you’ve supported all these years which has made such a profound difference to quality of life for those needing our help? Would you consider it? Those who’ve been giving $100 a year for the last 20 years then often leave a bequest of $25,000 to the organization. Or more. This happens ALL THE TIME. (But you gotta treat your donors well…)

    You MATTER!

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