Are You Treating Your Donors Like Gumballs?
|Are you focused on the gift or the giver?|
Thanking donors is the one thing most nonprofits do not spend enough time thinking about. Too often I find that staff spend 95% of their time crafting the fundraising appeal and getting embroiled in project management – design; layout; printing, postage, etc. Finally, the letter (or e-appeal) is ready to launch. The mailing is dropped/the button is punched and… voila! Gifts start to arrive! But then what?!
After you’ve sent out your appeal is too late to start thinking about what your thank you letter or email will say. Or who will sign it. Or whether someone who donates online will also receive an actual letter. Or thank you call. Or who will make the call. Everything must be well thought-out in advance. You must be ready to go, with different templates and strategies for different target audiences, well before you’ve asked for your first donation.
What would Miss Manners have to say about the way we focus more on the gift than on the giver? She would not be happy. Not happy at all. So, let’s vow to remedy this situation before we kick into prime giving season.
Here are the 8 things to watch out for:
- Delaying. Your thank you should get out the door within 48 hours. Period. No arguments. People will try to tell you they don’t care if they don’t hear from charities for a week… a month… whatever. Don’t believe them. Penelope Burk, author of “Donor-Centered Fundraising” has proved otherwise. If you don’t thank donors promptly, you’re destroying all the rest of your hard work. The most important predictor of likelihood to give is recency. If it takes you over a month to process a donor’s gift, then you’re missing out on their most-likely-to-give period. Timely follow up matters. A lot.
- Misspelling. You absolutely must spell the donor’s name correctly. There is no excuse for getting this wrong. None. It’s just plain sloppy. And it borders on rude. How would your friend feel if you misspelled her name on a thank you card for your birthday gift?Your friend would feel like you didn’t know who they were.Enough said.
- Failing to personalize the salutation.It’s so easy to do this these days with CRM and mail merge programs. Not doing it is lazy. Unless you absolutely know you have a constituent that prefers a formal salutation, use the familiar (i.e., first names). Except for judges and elected officials and military personnel, almost everyone else goes by their first name. And if they use a nickname (or have a pesky initial), then you’d better put this into the right field in your database. There’s nothing quite as awkward as “Dear Ms. R. Beatrice” when the donor goes by “Bitty.” Remember: You’re trying to build a relationship. Be friendly.
- Neglecting to mention something they asked you to do. If they asked for their gift to remain anonymous, the thank you letter should reflect this. If they earmarked the gift for a particular purpose, they want to be reassured that this is how you’ll use the money. If they asked for pledge reminders, they want to know you’ll stay on top of this. And so on. Donors want to know that you listen.
- Forgetting to tell them the specific impact the gift will have. Even bar mitzvah kids know to tell folks that they really needed that fountain pen and they’ll be putting it to work immediately to write thank you notes! The donor wants to know (1) you really needed their gift, and (2) how wisely you will use their investment and for what purpose.
- Overlooking the opportunity to provide something of value.Remember, philanthropy is all about the value-for-value exchange. Good donor stewardship requires a give and take; a back and forth. What gifts can you give? A way they can volunteer… a thank you from a supporter… a means to get involved as an advocate… a list of tips they can use? Give your donor something of value now to continue the circle.
- Not including the name of a contact person. What if the donor has a question? What if you made a mistake in their letter? What if they want to do more for you? How are they going to reach the right person if you don’t give them a name, phone number and email? Again, this is about building personal relationships. They must be able to reach you easily.
- Sounding like you’re asking for more.You’ll notice I didn’t say simply “asking” for more. And certainly this is a ‘no-no’. A thank you should be pure. Sometimes however, even when we don’t ask, we sound like we’re asking. Take a good look at your thank you letters. Do they sound a lot like a solicitation? Are you moaning about the need in the community; bragging about all the people you help, and adding that you couldn’t do it without the donor’s support? Too often our thank you letters sound exactly like our fundraising letters. Strive for simple and warm.
If you’re serious about donor retention you may want to get (1) my new 48 Hours: Donor Acknowledgment Solution Kit and/or (2) my newly revised and expanded Special Guide: How to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude and Keep Your Donors. The first gives you proof for your boss that this is important, a step-by-step process to speed things up, policies, procedures and more! The second is a handy no-nonsense workbook to help you put gratitude into practice on a daily basis. Templates, checklists, samples, creative ideas, links to tools and resources – it’s all there. For what you get, I think you’ll find both to be a bargain. And if not, you can always tell me. I’m pretty nice about these things. To your success!
Great article. I am also a fan of the handwritten note in addition to a more formal gift acknowledgement. The number of donors who have thanked me for thanking them is amazing. Handwritten notes are becoming a lost art but their impact is profound.
Thanks Ryan. And handwritten notes as an addition to the formal letter are the bomb!
I'm going to print this post and use it as a way to thank my clients for their business on a regular basis. I love how you laid it out so well!
Thanks Natasha. Hope it helps folks!
I really like all of the tips, but especially #8. You're right, we tend to repeat information that was in the appeal. The donor must "get it," because they've donated, right? I'm going to remember this…pure thank yous!
We use a three part letter. We have perforations for a thank you, a receipt and a bounce back device. At first I was very reluctant to add a bounce back device. This is a convenience mechanism to allow donors to send another gift. Many donors like this device because the use it as a reminder to send another gift. We also include an envelope for their convenience.
Additionally, we personalize and segment all our thank you letters. Finally, we handwrite a note on all letters. Normally, we have receipts out the day they are received.
Of course, this system takes a lot preplanning but has become second nature as we know the process. We have not received any negative feedback on the bounceback device. Annually, we raise $30-50,000 through this mechanism.
Thanks Ericka. It's true that "selling" our mission comes so second nature to us that we forget we're doing it. When we receive a gift it's a good time to stop for a moment. Soak in the love. Feel the gratitude. Then write.
I generally recommend inserting a tribute envelope and consider it a "gift" so that our supporters have an easy way to honor or memorialize someone (without having to go to the store!) should they wish to do so. It's a "softer" way to ask for a subsequent gift. Adding the personal notes is great!
Great reminders Claire. Showing appreciation and gratitude is indeed a lost art.
Excellent article! I always like to have the thank you written at the same time as the appeal, circling back to the themes in the appeal. Thanks!
Great article and, yes, there's another mistake: not following IRS rules where reporting to the donor is concerned. You need to let them know exactly how much of their donation/auction ticket price/etc is deductible. IRS has a very helpful publication #1771 (very little verbiage, lots of graphics) you can follow. It's available at http://www.irs.gov for free. Please also consult your accounting staff so they can review your thank you letters and receipts and make sure everything is included that should be.
Good for you! It's amazing how many folks wait until the first gift arrives to begin thinking about the thank you.
Thanks for adding this Nancy. It's good to be transparent with donors about this.
Nice one!! A very good read and guide. Cheers!
Cheers back at you, and thanks for reading! Hope you find it helpful. 🙂
This is great, Claire. I'm about to share a post on the various ways an organization can thank donors. I'll certainly refer to this for examples of what NOT to do. Good reminders all of them!
I find blocking off time for thank you calls and notes keeps this top of mind. It is easy to focus on the next thing, but dedicating each day or week makes this easy and a lot of fun.
All great reminders! Thanking our donors is of critical importance, I agree. It seems to be a matter of respect and true appreciation to get it right. I am a big believer in personal notes because they really stand-out nowadays and help build a solid relationship.
Thanks Emily! Appreciate your support.
It's great to block off time I agree Aaron. I like to put five notecards on my desk at the beginning of the week. If I haven't used them all to send a note of thanks by the end of the week, I've failed.
The more personal the better, agreed. Thanks Carolyn!
Thanks Claire. Great article! Much appreciated!
Although thank you letters are great, more important is getting the proper tax letters in order. For a shocking lack of doing so, our readers should be reminded of the Durden case. For a full discussion of a charitable contribution gone bad and the resulting tax disaster see IRS Slams Taxpayers: Attention to Tax Details Matter at http://frommtaxes.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/irs-slams-taxpayers-attention-to-tax-details-matter/
I will take attention to detail over thank you letters for my clients anytime.
I think you've managed to add a 9th thing we do wrong: We sometimes give them incorrect information to use for their tax purposes. It's important that we always remind donors we're not in the business of providing legal or financial advice, and that we suggest they check with their personal advisors. What we can and should do, of course, is tell them that to the best of our knowledge the amount of their gift that is eligible for a tax deduction is $_____. And, of course, we must add the required language for gifts of $250+ that "no gifts or services were given in exchange."
Thanks for this great reminder! (and what a ridiculously harsh decision by the court… sheesh!).
Me too Ryan! I just feel it adds a genuine touch. I always appreciate when I receive them.