Unraveling Development: Thank your donors. And thank them again.

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Thank your donors. Thank them more. Thank them even more.

I know—at least I hope—that you send out the formal written acknowledgement letter as soon as you receive the gift. This letter—on your letterhead—also includes the specific gift amount and, if you’re in the USA, the IRS statement regarding “no goods or services.” You send this letter ASAP. What does ASAP mean? The standard is within 48 hours, though within 72 hours is acceptable. The donor wants reassurance that you received the gift.

That’s only the minimum thank-you. Do more. Do more because it makes donors feel great. Do more because feeling great is important to donor loyalty. Do more because it’s smart business.

Yes, thanking donors is smart business. Check out Penelope Burk’s research detailed in her book Donor-Centered Fundraising. Ninety-three percent of the individuals Burk studied said they would “definitely or probably give again the next time they were asked to a charity that thanked them promptly and in a personal way…and followed up later with a meaningful report on the program [the donor] funded. Under these circumstances, 64 percent would give a larger gift and 74 percent would continue to give indefinitely.”

Here are more thank-you strategies:

  • Executive Director or Development Officer picks up the telephone and calls and says “thank you” to the donor. Do this the day you receive the gift, or maybe the next day.
  • Someone writes a personal handwritten thank-you note. Wow. If you could write a personal handwritten thank-you note to every single donor, wouldn’t that be great? I did that when I was the chair of the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island. Sure, it took time. The donor received this personal note a couple weeks after receipt of his or her gift. I actually heard donors comment on how gracious the personal note was. Donors seemed happy and that made me happy. By the way, it didn’t matter if I knew the donor or not. They all received a handwritten note.
  • Board members make thank-you calls. That’s even better than staff doing it. Penelope Burk’s research says that if a board member makes the call within two to three days of gift receipt, the donor is likely to give again and give more.

How about hosting an annual donor—of time or money—thank-you party? When I was the chief development officer at Trinity Repertory Company, we hosted this kind of party. A local restaurant that loved us dearly provided the location and hors d’oeuvres at no charge. The cash bar provided some income to the restaurant.

Here’s some bad news from Burk’s research: 94 percent of the donors she studied said that the charities they support “never or hardly ever” call without asking for another gift. That’s awful! Just call to say thank you. Just call to ask what a donor thought of the most recent issue of the newsletter. Just call to say “hi” to that donor who’s been giving for years and years.

More bad news from Burk: 98 percent of the donors she studied said that charities “never or hardly ever” visit without asking for money. How awful! You don’t visit your donors without asking for money? What happened to cultivation meetings? What happened to meeting a donor for coffee and asking them about why they give?

There’s so much to be ashamed of. Not enough thanking. Poorly written communications. Too little contact with donors. Money, money, money. Organizations treat philanthropy and fund development as a financial transaction. Shame on us!

Hey out there! Raise your donor-centric quotient. Improve your relationship-building program—or start one if you don’t have one yet.

Thank your donors. Thank them better. Thank them more.

  • Doris Heroff

    I highly recommend an annual thank you luncheon for any donors and board members who will attend. It is extremely successful here and leads to many new leads, arenas, collaborations and positive donor regard whether they have time or ability to attend or not.