13 Top Secrets of Donor Thank You Letters Revealed

"Thank You You Are Essential" signLet’s begin with a question: What do you spend more time on? Asking or thanking?

You’ve probably just completed a quarter hyper-focused on asking. I’ll bet you devoted a lot of time to this endeavor.

Now… you should be devoting at least as much time to thanking the donors who responded to your appeals, with the goal of retaining and upgrading them over time.

This is especially true with first-time donors, who cost you much more to acquire than you receive (on average, you spend $1.25 to raise $1.00). The only reason to acquire these supporters is to sustain them over timeso their lifetime value to you merits your investment in them.

Alas, the lion’s share of nonprofits spend a lot more time asking than thanking and reporting back on impact.

Thank you’s are often left to the last minute. They may be delegated to a lower-level support person. They’re treated as a realtively unimportant affterthought. And they’re often carelessly written, coming across as little more than a transactional receipt or a pre-printed Hallmark card with nothing more than a signature (often, also, laser printed).

It’s a BIG mistake.

The number one reason donors don’t give again is they aren’t properly thanked!

You may think you have a proper thank you letter template. But, if your thank you looks like this, it’s not helping you bond with your supporters.

TYPICAL THANK YOU LETTER TEMPLATE

Dear [donor name],

Thank you for your generous donation of $[donation amount] to [nonprofit name].

Your donation is making a difference. Because of your $[amount] donation, we are able to [impact of donation].

[this paragraph usually gives a general description of what the organization does]

Thank you again for your contribution! [nonprofit name] relies on the gifts of donors like you to make a difference.

Sincerely,
[name and title]

Look familiar?

Wah, wah, wah (sad trombone).

Most thank you letters are simply boring.

This could come from almost any nonprofit. It’s generic, not specific.It looks like a form letter.

You can do a lot better, and it’s not hard.

To Retain Donors, Stand Out from the ‘Get Go’

Believe me, most donors aren’t sticking around. Your own retention rates may be better or worse than average (do you know them?), but generally only 19% of new donors give again. For ongoing donors, it’s just 43%.

The time to nip this in the bud is now.

Did you know a study from Charity Dynamics and NTEN found 21% of donors say they were never thanked at all? My hunch is some of these supporters did receive something from you, but it was so perfunctory they didn’t really take notice.

  • Maybe you just sent a form receipt.
  • Maybe you took them to a thank you landing page; then called it a day.
  • Maybe you sent a brief, formal email that confirmed the gift, but didn’t make them feel particularly special.
  • Maybe you sent a letter, but talked more about the ongoing need than the impact of their gift (i.e., it sounded like another fundraising appeal).

If you don’t have a killer thank you letter prepared to send to the folks you hope will be giving to you again between today and next year, now is the time to right this wrong.

If you thank well you’ll see retention rates increase significantly.

In fact, research from Penelope Burk, author of Donor-Centered Fundraising, found 70% of donors reported they would increase their giving if they received what they needed from you.

Brilliant, warm, authentic, personal communication stands out and leads to renewals. And this is a much less expensive strategy than new donor acquisition which, again, costs from $1 to $1.25 to raise a dollar. Whereas renewing a donor costs only 20 cents on the dollar  — if you prioritize this as a strategy.

By now you may be thinking: Sounds good, but how do we stand out? There must be some specific strategies that incline donors towards giving again, but what are they?

Today I share my top secrets with you. They’re simple and foolproof.

Ready?

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Don’t Blow Your Post-Holiday Opportunity to Thank Your Nonprofit Supporters

Thank you note writingFor good things once a year is not enough. Why do so many of us only eat turkey once a year?  Or pumpkin pie? I’ve no idea! It’s surely not rational. These are special foods we value and take great delight in. Yet we get into a bad habit of thinking on auto pilot. If it’s not Thanksgiving, the idea of roasting a turkey or making cranberry sauce doesn’t even enter most or our heads. And egg nog, hot mulled cider, panettone and stollen are mostly Christmas things. And then there are the once-a-year only potato latkes. Why are we missing out on an opportunity for greater joy and satisfaction?

When things are good, they bear repeating.

And this is most certainly the case with expressing gratitude to your valued supporters!

It’s not rational to thank your donors only annually.  They keep you going all year long. They deserve your gratitude all year long as well.

What better time to thank supporters than right now, and all through the coming weeks, after a holiday season filled with gratitude?

The much-anticipated “holiday season” is pretty much over. There’s a natural let-down for many.  Wouldn’t it be lovely for your donors and volunteers to get a call from their favorite charity? A call that simply expresses gratitude? 
            Joe, how was your holiday? I just called because, in thinking over the past few days about all for which I’m grateful, I realized I’m grateful for you and all you do to make our community a more caring place. I just wanted you to know how much your support is appreciated. Thanks so much, and may the new year bring many blessings.
My hunch is there’s nothing better you could do with your time today. Or early next week if you’re taking some personal (or shopping the sales?) time today.

All the “strategies” in the world can’t substitute for a genuine, personal connection that comes from the heart.

Connect!  Express your thanks! Don’t let weeks and months go by. Don’t wait until you’ve got a perfectly crafted letter, email or insert piece. That’s called procrastination, or “letting perfect be the enemy of the good.” Sometimes, timing is everything.
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How to Help Donors Give Astutely Before Year-End

Wishing you a prosperous new year

Do you want to risk not receiving generous gifts you could have otherwise received, just because you failed to go the extra mile to share relevant, useful and even critical information? Or because you just did the most basic things, failing to do what would have made your communications really stand out?

The Genuine Job of the Philanthropy Facilitator

Your job as a philanthropy facilitator is to do everything in your power to make giving to you as easy, joyful and rewarding as possible.

Everything.

Do you?

Doing everything means

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14 Last-Minute Strategies to Boost Year-End Fundraising

Painting of baby in fetal position

Arrgh! Too crowded! Too competitive! Too much noise! I’m curling into a fetal position until it’s over!

Do you have that year-end feeling? You know, the one many fundraisers get around this time of year?

Kind of frenetic? Anxious? Stressed?

You’re not alone.

The average nonprofit receives 26 – 30% of all donations in December. And 10% arrive in the last three days of the year!  So, yeah, it’s really busy.  And a lot is on the line.

I was talking with one of my clients, who apologized for acting so frantic and rushed.  She said:

“Do you remember having that feeling? Did you get it when you used to work in the trenches? That worry that maybe you won’t hit your numbers? That people won’t give as much as they gave last year? That some of your major donors won’t renew. That maybe you’re not sending enough emails? That you’ll wake up on January 1st and be in BIG trouble?”

Oh, yeah. That feeling…

Of course I’ve felt it!  But over the years I’ve learned a few tricks to help overcome that feeling.

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May the Force Be With You: Underused Year-End Fundraising Tweak

Silhoette of person with light sabersWhat if I told you there’s a teensy little digital upsell that could skyrocket your year-end fundraising results?  Would that be of interest?

Darn rootin’-tootin’!

Okay. Here’s something you still have time to do. It has to do with your website, so consider looping in whoever is responsible for that part of your year-end marketing and fundraising strategy.

First, let’s look at a typical Donation Landing Page with a call to action via some compelling text, maybe a photo, and a big, bold “Donate” button. Hopefully you’ve optimized it for mobile too.  And, no matter what device your donor uses to access the page, they’re able to complete their gift with no more than two clicks.

Check, check, check, check and check.

You’re well on the way (or not quite) to getting some nice traction for your campaign.

But… don’t stop there!

Because you can significantly boost your results if you add one simple thing.

I like to think of it as “the force.”

It’s not a light saber, but it’s similarly luminous.

It’s called a…

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Happy Days of Thanks(for)Giving

Thankful for ThanksgivingThis Thursday folks in the United States will celebrate what I consider to be the social benefit sector holiday of the year.

So it’s time for my annual Thanks(for)Giving post!

Just think about what ‘Thanksgiving’ means.

Literally, it’s a day for giving thanks for the blessings given to us.

Who, and what, do you count among yours?

I’ve noted when we go around the table at my family Thanksgivings, saying what we’re grateful for, most folks respond with people-based answers. Yes, gratitude for the feast in front of us is mentioned, yet what folks are most grateful for are caring friends, loving family, embracing community, and simply for being together sharing the warmth of good company. This year, with parts of the world completely unbalanced by barbaric acts of war, extreme poverty, and a spreading global divide teetering on the edge between democracy and autocracy, giving thanks may seem like a stretch.  Which is why leaning into your connections with people, and all the good things you share with them, are more important than ever.

But not all connections are around a Thanksgiving table with family and friends.

A lot of connections for nonprofit workers are with donors, volunteers, clients and co-workers.

Gratitude in the social benefit sector extends to all the people working to restore balance and repair our world. It’s difficult work, to be sure. Rather than fall prey to doom casting, tears and hand wringing, let’s take a moment to breathe deeply and welcome gratitude into our hearts. And let’s extend that gratitude to the people who care (including yourself). As Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Who are you grateful to at your organization?

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