"Thank Before You Bank” is a tried and true maxim of nonprofit fundraising, but so many organizations fail to properly thank their donors. Since acknowledging gifts and planning for 2015 are among the few responsibilities that fundraisers face in late December, this is the perfect time to focus on thanking donors. A few best practices in thanking donors include:
Thank before you bank
If an organization has the capacity to deposit checks quickly, it also has the capacity to send personalized thank you letters for donations without delay. Organizations make a very positive impression on donors by mailing a thank you letter within two business days of receiving a gift. A thank you letter received within days of the gift tells donors that their donation was noticed and appreciated, while those thank you letters received weeks or months after the gift communicate apathy and very little gratitude for the donor’s gift.
Connect the thank you letter to the mission
Donors’ first priority is the mission or cause, and they only seek worthy organizations after feeling passionate about the cause. For this reason, every thank you letter should powerfully connect the donor to the mission, and successful thank you letters are cherished by donors for years (and not just for tax purposes). Many organizations ask clients to hand write short notes of gratitude to be enclosed with the organization’s formal thank you letter, and clients’ personal notes are often posted on donor refrigerators or shared with friends.
Reaffirm the donor’s decision to give
Since everyone likes to support a winner, the thank you letter should communicate the organization’s recent success and underscore that the donor’s gift will make the organization even more successful.
Personalize. Personalize. Personalize.
Every thank you letter sent should be personalized to the greatest extent possible. This goes beyond the basics of spelling the donor’s name correctly and using a preferred name in the salutation. Personalizing a thank you letter also extends to recognizing the impetus for a donor’s gift. If the donor gave in response to a direct mail piece about providing warm coats to low income school children, for example, the thank you letter should indicate the impact the gift will have on the coat program. This level of personalization usually requires that the organization draft several thank you letters.
Correspondence should feel like a letter from a personal friend
Even when done by mail, fundraising is relationship building. While the thank you letter will use the organization’s letterhead and envelope, the best thank you letters feel like they are from a person and not an organization. This means a real signature (not a digital one), and the person signing the letter should hand-write a note of thanks near their signature.
In this age of low-cost, high-quality color printing, many donors will use a wet finger to determine whether the signature and personal note smudge. Using a felt-tip or gel-ink pen ensures the donor has the satisfaction of a “good smudge”.
Since personal correspondence uses stamps and not metered postage, the envelope should use a real first class or forever stamp. The U.S. Postal Service has a variety of different stamps for purchase online, which gives the organization another opportunity to communicate its mission to the donor.
Organizations serving veterans might use the purple heart stamp or medal of honor stamp, food banks can choose a farmers market stamp, environmental organizations might opt for a “go green” stamp, civil rights organizations might affix the Emancipation Proclamation stamp, and LGBT organizations could use the Harvey Milk stamp. Reviewing all of the stamp options at the USPS website is well worth a fundraiser’s time.
Thank you letters have a shelf life
Donors who make multiple gifts each year should receive a different thank you letter each time. Nothing communicates “you, dear donor, are just a name in our database”, like receiving the same thank you letter several times.
Additionally, the best thank you letters are current and topical, which means most cannot be used for more than a few months.
Sometimes a letter just isn’t enough
An organization’s executive director should personally call and thank any donor making a gift over a specified amount. Since major donors almost never receive personal thank you calls the day a gift is arrives in the office, this call will set your organization apart from the others and strengthen the relationship with the donor.
For organizations with only a few donors, those making gifts over $200 might receive the personal call, while organizations with thousands of donors may choose to call and thank those donors making gifts over $1,000 or $5,000. Most important, the call should occur the same day the gift is received, and the call should focus entirely on thanking the donor and communicating how the gift will help the organization achieve its mission.
If the executive director is out of the office or the organization is very large, the chief fundraising officer can place this call.