Thanking Your Donors

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Thank You
pavila /

How important are those thank-you letters?

I gave through your website or PayPal or Network for Good or something. And pretty much immediately, I got an e-mail thank you. Is that really a thank you?

I sent you a gift and you sent back a pre-printed postcard, and wrote in my gift amount in the blank. Yes, you put the card in an envelope. After all, my gift doesn’t need to be shared with all the post office employees. Was that good enough?

You have so many donors that you only send thank-you letters to those who give $250 and above. How about that approach?

You’re a small development office. Well, really, there is no development office. You’re a wonderful small agency doing important work. The executive director and board members do the fundraising. There’s one administrative assistant to do everything. So it takes a few weeks for those thank-you letters to go out. But they do go out!

And anyway, do thank-you letters really make a difference? Why bother? Those donors may well give again without a thank-you letter. Oh dear. Oh my. How distressing.

First, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter how much someone gives or whether thank-you letters increase donor retention. What matters is that a favor (I invited you to dinner at my home) was given or a gift was made (no matter the size). This is about respect and kindness and…

Gosh! Thank all your donors regardless of gift amount. And write a real letter. Yes, I know, it might be a very good form letter than you use with most people. And yes, you produce it on a computer. And sure, you type the address on the envelope. But someone signs that letter with a real pen (and blue ink). And someone might even write a P.S. And you send out the thank-you letter in a timely manner.

I sent in a gift. I contacted the agency three weeks after I sent in the gift. I wondered if it was lost in the mail. The gift wasn’t lost. They just hadn’t thanked me yet. They were so busy. Oh please.

A really great thank-you letter makes me feel like I made a difference. A timely thank-you letter makes me think you are competent and pay attention to the details. And if you do that with donors, I’m sure you’re doing that in every other area of operation. Neuroscience research shows that when a person thinks one area of the organization works well, the person applies that to the rest of the organization, too. And if you need more, satisfaction with the development office is the key driver of donor loyalty. So says Adrian Sargeant’s research.

Tom Ahern wrote about thank-you letters in two issues of his free e-news. Check out Issues 10.6 and 10.7 (2012). And you may as well read Issue 10.8 about the salutation in the thank-you letter because that’s important, too.

My life partner and I received a marvelous thank-you letter from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). We read the letter and saved it. We read it and felt special…like our investment mattered…like we mattered, too. The letter clearly states that things aren’t great. The letter is clear that our future investments will matter, too. And I know that this is a genuine, deeply felt thank you.

The letter read, “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 through these ongoing struggles for justice and fairness. It is inspiring to all of us to have your faith and commitment.”

Are your thank-you letters this good?

  • Serobilee

    Thanks for the eyeopener. I received funding for a teen outreach project and your comments let me know the importance of responding to donors in a timely manner while there contributions are still fresh. That indicates that their donations were effective in implementing the project.The first year we didn’t send thank you notes to anyone. Now, I will not hesitate to thank my donors timely and thanks for that feedback. Now, if I could just develop that expertise with marketing.

    Serobi speaks