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 their 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 you too often focus more on the gift than on the giver? She would not be happy. Not happy at all. So, make a vow to remedy this situation before we kick into prime giving season.
9 Thank You Mistakes to Avoid
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-again period. Timely follow up matters. A lot.
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.
3. Failing to personalize the salutation
Personalization matters. Per the most recent Abila Donor Loyalty Study, approximately 71% of donors feel more engaged with a nonprofit when they receive content that’s personalized. 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 personal relationship. Be friendly.
4. Yawn-inducing content
A thank you letter is an opportunity to make your donor feel warm and fuzzy. When you begin your letter with “Thank you on behalf of the board, staff and all those who are helped by your generosity…,” you put your donor to sleep. Generic and/or jargon-filled acknowledgements are just you checking the thank you off your list. They do little for the donor, and less for you. They certainly don’t set your donor up to want to give to you again.
Jimmy will go to sleep tonight with a full tummy, because you cared. (Food program)
You remembered, because Gloria could not. (Alzheimer’s care)
The glass of water she drinks today will not make her sick. (Clean water)
Rather than providing a transactional receipt, offer a transformational donor experience.
5. Neglecting to mention something they asked you to do
If your donor 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 you listen.
6. 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 for the purpose they intended.
7. 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. Sadly, giving isn’t always its own reward. It’s up to you to reward your donor and help them to feel like the hero they are. 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 of giving and getting.
8. 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. Donors must be able to reach you easily.
9. Sounding like you’re asking for more
You’ll notice I didn’t say simply asking for more. While this is certainly a ‘no-no’ (a thank you should be pure), it’s equally important to avoid the appearance of asking. Take a good look at your thank you letters. Do they sound a lot like a solicitation? Are you still moaning about the need in the community; bragging about all the people you help, and adding that there’s still so much to do? An Abila Donor Engagement Study found that 21% of donors say they were never thanked for their gift. Some weren’t, but my hunch is that a lot were. They just didn’t perceive what you sent them to be a thank you. Too often thank you letters sound exactly like fundraising letters.
Serious about donor retention?
You may want to get my Attitude of Gratitude Donor Guide. It’s filled with everything I’ve learned about donor acknowledgement over the years, all tucked it into one handy no-nonsense guide on the practice of gratitude. 106 full pages, with lots of ready-to-use samples and templates. Plus it includes the Creative Ways to Thank Your Donors E-Book — with 60+ ideas for you to steal! All Clairification products comes with a 30-day no-questions-asked money-back guarantee.
Parts of this article were originally published 11-18-12 on Clairification.