The Office Dwight Teapot

One of the most classic episodes of the (superior, don’t @ me) American version of The Office is “Christmas Party,” in which Jim finally gets up the courage to profess his love for Pam.

For the “Secret Santa” / “White Elephant” gift exchange, Jim prepares a teapot filled with some small items representing inside jokes and memories he and Pam have shared, as well as a love note to her. The teapot, he hopes, will draw her attention.

Unfortunately, Michael grotesquely exceeds the $20 purchasing limit and contributes an iPod to the exchange, in an effort to impress the other staffers. Of course, the iPod gets all of the attention, and ends up with Pam, much to Jim’s dismay.

How we approach our list of donors often mirrors the Dundies: high dollar amount donors get all the attention, while modest givers (who may really love us) fly under the radar.

To be sure, some “iPod” donors do indeed deserve all of the attention we can give them. However, some may have given just to show off, much like Michael, and not because they actually care about you or your cause. That could be why that big shot in your community who dropped $5000 at your last gala hasn’t responded to your cultivation efforts.

So don’t sleep on those “teapot” donors who may not have the capacity to make a big gift. Their affection for your organization and its mission can be measured in other, subtle ways.

If you aren’t sure who to look for, here are some ideas:

Possible “Teapot” Donors

  • out-of-town donors (if you have a local service offering)
    • For someone to give to you when they don’t live in your service area is sort of weird. They might be a former resident or service recipient who believes in what you do for the community they still care about. Be sure to filter out P2P (peer-to-peer) and memorial gifts from out of town.
  • monthly donors who give an extra one-time gift
    • The “13th gift,” perhaps at year-end or on Giving Tuesday, is a sign that they believe in you enough to go beyond the automatic withdrawals that happen monthly.
  • members / patrons who also donate
    • For YMCAs, performing arts or other member-based orgs, that small percentage who understands more support is needed beyond the ticket or membership revenue they provide deserves extra attention.
  • donors who, unprompted, give you updated contact info
    • If a donor calls, writes or emails you with a new mailing address, phone number or email address, please mark that person as a true believer.
  • donors who submit matching gifts from their employer
    • It can sometimes be a hassle to submit a matching gift form after donating. But these donors like you enough to jump through hoops to double their donation.
  • adult children (especially daughters) of parents who give, or gave prior to passing away
    • Research shows that parents have the ability to influence their children while they live in the same household, and that those children can carry this behavior into adulthood.
  • contact person at a company who sends volunteers
    • If you rely on or benefit from corporate volunteer trips to your facility, be sure to highlight the employee who chooses your charity and/or organizes the trip. Convincing co-workers and their boss(es) to take the trip isn’t easy, and they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t really like you.
  • donors who complain
    • Okay, so maybe these folks won’t exactly go unnoticed. But research shows that they have higher retention rates than non-complainers.

Ideally, this kind of information should be tracked in your donor database, and reported on occasionally. A little extra stewardship for these “teapots” may pay off big in the future. How many times have you heard stories of large bequests from “millionaires next door” who never gave more than modest annual gifts?

What other “teapot” donors have surprised you? What hidden gems do you look for in your database? Let me know in the comments below!

Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.

best donor prospects

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang
Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to "Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition" and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member, and sits on the faculty of the Institute for Charitable Giving. He is the author of Robots Make Bad Fundraisers - How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age, published by Bold and Bright Media.