How do you thank your donors?

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Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE is recognized internationally as an expert in fund development, board and organizational development, strategic planning, and management. She is the founder and director of Joyaux Associates. Visit her website here.

You know how important “thank you” is.

First there’s the official letter from the office. On letterhead. Specifying the donor name(s) and indicating the gift amount. Including the requisite IRS language. Typically signed by the CEO or the board chair.

This official gift acknowledgement letter goes out within 48 hours of gift receipt. Why 48 hours? Because by the time the gift got to you and your acknowledgement letter got back to the donor… at least five days have passed, more likely seven days. Now five to seven days is beginning to be a rather long time before the donor receives that thank-you.

Sure, the official gift acknowledgement is standardized in your computer. But you can personalize it a bit. And your signer can write a personal P.S.

But mostly, make sure it’s a really great thank-you letter. Make me, the donor, feel special. Tell me why my gift matters. Explain how my investment makes a difference. With all that, I’ll understand that I matter…me the donor. Then I’ll suspect that my future investments will matter, too. And I’ll keep on giving.

A year ago, my life partner and I received a wonderful thank-you letter from the National Center for Lesbian Rights. We give one of our largest gifts each year to this institution. Here are some of the best words I’ve ever read in any thank-you letter:

“Thank you for your generous gift. While we’ve had incredible successes in 2010, it is only honest to admit that it’s also been a difficult year — one that will stay with us, especially those of us who believe in the humanity of others.
“I am so grateful that we have each other to help get through these ongoing struggles for justice and fairness. It is inspiring to all of us to have your faith and commitment.”
That’s about as good as it gets. The truth about the struggles, and they are many. The value of me as a donor, how much I matter now and in the future. My role, a major partner in the fight.

If one thank you is good, more thanks are better.

How else does your organization thank its donors?

I hope your organization makes thank-you calls to donors. And I hope your board members do these, not just staff or clients.

I’m a board member of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. Every couple months, I call donors to thank them for their gifts. I’m just as busy – maybe more busy (but please, this isn’t a competition!) – than any of your board members. I make time to call donors. Then I report back to staff.

Thank you calls – especially from board members – are very good, very good indeed. Why from a board member rather than staff? Because board members are volunteers, not paid. Remember, philanthropy is defined as voluntary action for the common good.

Some research says it’s best to call donors within 48 hours of gift receipt. But if your board members cannot do that, don’t worry. Just get the calls made – at least one call per donor per fiscal year would be better than no call at all. And call all donors regardless of gift size. Remember, loyalty is more important than gift size.

Here’s my typical script for donor thank-you calls:

Hello, my name is Simone Joyaux and I’m a board member of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. I’m calling to thank you for your gift. I’m not asking you for another gift. I just want to tell you how much your commitment means. Thank you.

I make sure I tell them immediately that I’m not calling to ask for money. I’m hoping that maybe the donor will want to talk with me a bit. Sometimes donors do; sometimes not.

I ask the donor if she has any questions that I might answer. Sometimes donors do have questions and we get to talking about various stuff of interest to the donor. But mostly the donor is just startled to receive a thank-you call. I say thanks. The donor says okay. And we’re finished. I hang up. If I get an answering machine, I leave the thank-you message.

I’m always amazed at how few organizations do thank-you calls. How do I know this to be true? Because when I’m presenting at conferences and working with clients, I ask: How many have you have ever received a donor thank-you call from an organization where you give. No more than 1 percent of the people in the group raise their hands. That’s really sad.

How else do you thank your donors?

How about personally writing notes to donors? Yes, another task that board members could do. Just a few lines. Handwritten. Mailed through the postal service, with a stamp! When was the last time you received a handwritten letter or note?

How about hosting a donor thank-you party? Not an expensive one. A gathering. Several gatherings.

Do it. Thank your donors well. Thank them often. And get your board members to help.

  • Paul Cwynar

    I am in total agreement with this practice. We send timely letters – even for in-kind donations; have staff, volunteers and board members phone and thank donors; and thank them personally when we see them. Our donors have told me repeatedly, “No one ever calls to thank me except you guys! Everyone else calls to ask for money.” The thank you call leaves a lasting impression.

  • Yuba Raj Chaudhary

    I agree with this practice. Thouhg we used to thank donor, this is good pratice to thank i writting by board member or CEO. I think we should start this practice. This will realy impress donor and they will have positive thinkings towards the organization. I love this practice.

  • Simone Joyaux

    It’s amazing how poorly so many organizations do in thanking their donors. It’s wonderful how easy it is to do better. Telephone thank you calls – by board members – are sooooo rare. Be one of the rare groups… Board members make those calls. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if donors talked about how many thank-you calls they receive?

  • Assegid T. Gedamu

    Good tips on the “power of THANK YOU note”!
    However, it is also good to be aware of ‘flattery’ expressions which often is a case with some organizations & individuals. Decent & genuine expressions of ‘thank you’ can do miracles for continued blessings…not only from humans side but also stimulates God’s provisions!