Is saying thank you to donors simply being polite? No! Yes, it is good manners, but it is also key to building a relationship and a critical fundraising strategy.
65% of first-time donors don’t make a second gift. That’s what Penelope Burk’s donor-centered research tells us. Donors want something quite simple: a prompt, meaningful thank you letter and communication on how their money was used. That’s it! 85% of donors say that would convince them to make the second gift. One thing is for sure, failing to express gratitude for donors’ contributions is a sure-fire way to damage relationships.
Treat each donation as the beginning of a beautiful friendship that will develop into a LIFETIME of support. You are starting a new relationship.
1. SEND A HANDWRITTEN NOTE
In this time of technology, the one thing that will make your nonprofit stand out is a handwritten note received by the donor within 48 hours of the gift. Not a canned receipt. Speed is important because the longer you wait, the more likely your donor will forget they donated, and the less sincere your thank you seem. That, in turn, creates a negative donor experience which could prohibit someone from giving in the future.
Thank you notes should be simple and emotional with pure gratitude and make the donor feel like a hero. You are thanking them for their awesomeness. Don’t brag about your accomplishments or your future aspirations. Instead, tell them about what their gift has allowed. Your goal is to make your donors feel something. Make them care. The biggest thank-you note killer is being boring.
Remove “On behalf of” or “Thank you for” from your letter writing repartee. Start your letters in a more creative and personal way like “You made my day” on one line by itself. Then jump into a story: “Your donation crossed my desk today and …” Explain how the money will be used. If you don’t have specifics at that time you can simply assure donors that their gifts are going to “where the need is greatest.”
Also, a big buzz kill is careless errors. Nothing communicates a lack of care and respect like a blatant error on a thank you note. One of my most loyal advisors once told me if you spell my name wrong you have lost me forever. It’s ok to ask your donors on occasion if you’ve got their contact information correct (give them an email address to reach out), and if they send you corrections, update their profile everywhere.
If you’re a small nonprofit trying to grow your donor base, this is what you need to do. Sure, as you grow you can’t do it for everyone, but right now, you can. As you grow bigger you can send handwritten notes to your most committed donors.
Tip: Change who’s saying thank you. Ask a few clients to explain in their own words how your organization has changed their lives and to thank the donor for making it all possible. They write the note, but you send it. Then, ask board members to send a separate handwritten thank you note. Thank you note writing is a great activity for board member fundraising too—it’s low pressure, with a big return on the time invested.
2. SHARE YOUR PROGRESS, HOWEVER SMALL
Your donors want to know that they matter. Send a follow up thank you, showing results. Be specific: why did their donation matter? What did it accomplish? Whose life was changed? The follow-up needs to be just as carefully crafted as the appeal and the thank you. DON’T ASK for more money yet! If you thank them with enthusiasm now, you should definitely ask again in a month or two – and if you do your job, they’ll be HAPPY to give.
Tip: Create a six-month Impact Report. Send donors a report to relay the positive impact of their gift. This report can be disseminated in a wide variety of formats and via print or electronic mediums. The elements should include client testimonies, messages of gratitude, and what you hope to accomplish in the next six months. It should also include photos of clients. The main photo should be a group of people whom your organization helps holding a big banner that says, “Thank You.” This will light up your donor’s day.
3. OFFER A NEXT STEP-BUT AGAIN DON’T ASK THEM FOR MONEY!
You want to make sure your donor stays connected with your nonprofit. So, invite them to do so, without asking them for more money. Invite them to your next free event or any volunteer opportunity. The hours, days, and weeks after a donation are a time when your donor will be most excited about your cause, and most likely to remember you. Offer them the next step before their passion cools. The next step can be as simple as joining your email list or following you on social media.
Tip: A great strategy is a behind the scenes tour. During the tour, they can meet clients (if appropriate clients should serve as the tour guide), your staff, and even have a small meeting with your team. This can solidify your relationship for years to come.
4. SEND THANK YOU EMAIL
An email thank you should be sent only and immediately when donors give online. But don’t use the boilerplate acknowledgment provided by your CRM or email provider. Donors can tell when something is automated, and they perceive it as “I guess they don’t really care about me.” Write an email that outlines why you’re grateful for their help, and how their donations are contributing to a positive change in the world.
Tip: Attach a brief video or a photo of clients saying thank you or that shows how their gift will be used and let them know they’ll receive their ‘official’ thank you later in the mail if an address has been provided. Online donors are not second-class citizens. They should receive the same relationship-building touches as offline donors. Yes, it’s easier and less expensive to not mail a handwritten thank you note in the short run. But, in the long run, you’ll likely retain more donors if you send both types of acknowledgments.
5. SEND THANK YOU TEXT
Younger donors communicate primarily through text. This demographic actually prefers a text thank you over an emailed one. Despite age, if a person is a business professional, they check their text constantly.
Tip: Texting may be a viable primary or secondary strategy, especially if you’ll otherwise have difficulty getting out a thank you within 48 hours. Imagine, a donor toured your facility and then minutes later they received a video text of your client saying, “Thank you for taking the time to visit us” or “Thank you for your donation.” This will make them think you are on your A game. When in reality you had the video clip prerecorded in your phone.
6. RECORD A VIDEO
Video is a powerful medium to stir emotions through images, words, and music. Nonprofits can use video to acknowledge and thank their donors. If you can get a two-to-five-minute video professionally done, great. But, if not anyone with a smartphone can create a perfectly usable thank you video. This video can be posted to your fundraiser and social media.
Tip: Take photos of staff or clients holding thank you signs; then use an easy app like Ripl to edit them into a quick slideshow. You can even add music. Just make sure your thank you video is under 30 seconds.
7. TALK ON THE PHONE
Set your nonprofit apart from the pack and pick up the phone to say thank you — in addition to sending a letter before or after.
This is a secret weapon. Studies have shown that those who receive a call give more than those who do not. This simple most under-utilized way of thanking donors has the most lasting impact.
Phone calls can build bonds of trust between your nonprofit and a donor because they are personal in nature. The time on the phone also allows you to get to know your donor better by asking them for their opinion on different topics that affect your organization.
Tip: Have your board members call to thank donors within 48 hours. This is a great low-pressure activity for board member fundraising with a big return on the time invested.
8. SEND A POSTCARD FROM BEHIND THE SCENES
Show your donor’s investment in action. Have program staff take photos during the course of their everyday work. Then turn those into personalized postcards using digital photo apps like Postagram or Touchnote. If using these apps are cost prohibited, use word or publisher to create the postcard. Canva also has some great free templates.
Tip: Be sure to include “because of you” on your postcard. Choice pictures that make your donor feel good about those being helped because of their support.
9. THANK YOUR DONORS ON YOUR WEBSITE
Your main website is a great place to showcase public appreciation about and for your donors. To take advantage of this opportunity, you can develop a section on your website that acknowledges the commitment of all your investors: one-time donors, recurring givers, peer-to-peer fundraisers, etc.
Tip: For bigger corporate donors you can designate a section of your website to include their logo and a link back to their business.
10. SEND A WELCOME PACKET
Send your first-time donors a welcome packet. This packet is a creative way to say thank you and welcome them to your nonprofit. It should educate them on your organization while also showing them you care about their decision to invest in your mission. This packet should not replace the handwritten thank you note that is sent within 48 hours of receiving a gift. It is a supplement that should be sent to your new donors no later than two weeks after they’ve made their first gift.
Tip: Welcome packets should include items like photographs of your clients, a well-written story about your nonprofit’s impact, and a small gift made by your client, if possible.
11. ANNUAL REPORT
Use your annual report to highlight your donors by name and recognize their efforts. If your nonprofit does not have a system in place to catalog your donors you can still acknowledge you’d have nothing to report on without donor support.
Tip: Thank donors in the letter from the CEO and Board Chair, rather than only talking about your organization’s accomplishments. It is imperative that the donors know that you could not accomplish your mission with them. Conclude your letter with “this was only possible with the support of all of our stakeholders.”
12. HOST A CULTIVATION EVENT
A donor cultivation event provides a fun and social setting for your nonprofit to get to know donors on a personal level and to say thank you for their support.
This is a purely social event that brings together current donors, potential new donors and lapsed donors. You do not ask for money. You can use this as an opportunity to instead engage in conversations about your donors’ interests. Along the way sprinkling in tidbits about your nonprofit impact.
Tip: A major donor may be willing to host this event in their home. Especially, if they have a long term relationship with your organization and they understand the importance of friendraising.
13. REQUESTS THEIR FEEDBACK & FOLLOW-THROUGH ON WHAT YOU LEARN
Donors like to tell you what they think. When donors share feedback, either positive or negative, they’re opening lines of communication with you. Feedback is an opportunity for your nonprofit to quickly engage with donors and, above all else, thank them for their input.
When dealing with a complaint, it’s important you resolve any issues within 24 hours. If you don’t know how to respond to a complaint, a simple three-pronged approach of “aware, working, and update” will suffice. This shows the donor that you are aware of the situation, you are working on the problem and will update them as soon as you know more.
If you can do these three things in a timely manner, it can go a long way toward making donors feel appreciated and valued by your nonprofit. Never forget to thank them for surfacing issues. It’s not a traditional thank you like you would normally send someone when they make a donation, but it’s important none the less.
Tip: You can create a donor survey. It is a great way to let donors know what they think matters to you – and to learn a great deal about your donors.
14. SEND ANNIVERSARY CARDS
Have the CEO or Board Chair send a personalized anniversary card to your donors one year after they made their first donation. Make sure to celebrate other major milestones in a donor’s lifetime affiliation with your nonprofit, like their 5, 10, 15, and 20 year anniversaries. The longer someone has been with your nonprofit, the more personalized and exciting you can make your card. You can even consider sending a special thank you incentive, like an exclusive pin, for larger milestones.
Tip: The Anniversary card should share what impact the donor’s gift has had on your nonprofit.
15. SOCIAL MEDIA
Thank your donors on social media. It is easy and free. A simple shout out on social media gets them excited. It also promotes your mission, campaigns and dedicated supporters to the rest of the world outside your donor network. You can create an animated, personalized GIF for your donors at Giphy and share it on social media with a simple thank you message. You can show your appreciation with a short and sweet thank you video – and post it on your Snapchat Story. Or to show how a donor’s contribution directly affects your cause, you can use Facebook Live to video broadcast your appreciation.
Tip: To learn where your donors are hanging out on social media ask them by using a survey. You can also add a field on your donation form to collect their usernames.
16. DISTRIBUTE PHOTO BOOKS
If you have ever completed a major fundraiser like a capital campaign, it is imperative that you share the results with your donors. For such momentous occasions, you should go beyond a donation letter and delight them with a photo book.
Take the most powerful, funny, heartwarming, and results-oriented photos you have from your project and assemble them into a photo booklet for your donors. Also, include letters from clients in the book. This book will serve as tangible evidence of how their donations were put to use: they can see it, touch it, and share it.
Tip: If it is cost prohibitive to give a book to every donor, consider doing this for your larger or more dedicated donors.
17. DONATION THANK YOU LANDING PAGE
Use a dedicated thank-you landing page to show donor appreciation. It is a valuable often overlooked tool.
Tip: Include an image that triggers emotions or brief video that tells a story demonstrating the impact of your donor’s gift. Like any other thank you, this landing page should be considered an opportunity to predispose your donor to make the next gift. But don’t sell; show and tell.
18. E-NEWSLETTER OR BLOG
If you have an e-newsletter or blog, write a profile on some of your donors. This simple act of recognition also serves as an opportunity to get to know your donors and make a personal connection with them. It will also inspire copycat donors.
Tip: Don’t miss an opportunity to sprinkle one or more thank yous and pats on the back to your donors every time you send e-newsletter or blog. Donors are the heart of your mission and make your work possible. Give credit where it’s due. Every time.
19. EVENT PROGRAM
An event program is a great opportunity to thank donors in front of a large crowd. Don’t just include donor names/logos in the printed program; recognize them from the podium or stage!
Tip: Consider adding special recognition touches by holding a V.I.P. thank you reception or after-party. This event can welcome donors with a private meet and greet with a celebrity or simply with a glass of bubbly.
20. DONOR GIFT
Sending donors a gift is a memorable way to show your gratitude. A gift acts as a personalized reminder of how they helped your cause.
Pick a gift related to your cause or organization to keep your mission in your donors’ minds. Your gift doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. In fact, a thoughtful, simple gift can have more impact on your donors. A major donor once told me don’t spend money on a fancy plaque. Instead, invest that money in the mission
Tip: When possible, have your clients create handmade donor gifts. Artwork, holiday wreaths, jewelry or any gift they can make. After 10 years I still have artwork hanging in my home created by a youth in the afterschool program. And yes, I still support them. That artwork reminds me daily of the great work they do.
21. PRINTED NEWSLETTERS
Print newsletters are still valuable. These newsletters should celebrate donors, not the organization, and show donor’s their impact.
If done right and are well written, a newsletter can thank donors, inform them and also let them know their continuing support matters.
Tip: Include bequest language on all printed newsletters. This can be as simple as “Remember the (organization) in your will and estate plan.”
22. PLANT A TREE
If you want to say thank you to donors in a lasting way, consider planting a tree dedicated to all your donors. It’s a perfect way to honor donors while helping beautify your community.
Tip: Host a tree planting ceremony and mark the occasion with an engraved plaque.
23. ENDOW PUBLIC THANK YOUS
To show your lasting appreciation, consider a lasting public donation, such as engraved bricks or plaques.
Tip: You could integrate this idea into your fundraising efforts for example, donors could “buy” bricks when they donate to your cause.
24. PAY IT FORWARD
Support your donors by supporting their other causes. If you can’t donate to their cause, you can offer to volunteer, to help with their fundraiser, or to share their fundraiser with your social network.
Tip: When volunteering at your donor’s event make sure to wear your organization’s logo apparel. This will remind the donor of your support and show the community at large that your organization is giving back.
25. MAKE A HOME-COOKED DISH OR DESSERT
An easy way to thank your donors is to make them a home-made dish or dessert.
Tip: Deliver your donor home-made dish or dessert on a special occasion like the holidays or a birthday. More importantly, if you are having conversations with them on a regular basis you will learn over time their favorite dish or dessert. Would it not show great appreciation to surprise them with their favorite?
Have you ever received an unexpected thank you for something you did? What a lift to the spirits!
You can provide that to your donors with an out-of-the-blue thank you call. In today’s world, we are always being asked to do more, to give more. It’s nice to simply be thanked for what we’ve already done. People will appreciate it and they will remember you.
Tip: Plan your Thank-a-Thon at a slow time in your calendar, not near any fundraising events. You want this thank you call to come as a surprise, delighting your donors. Plan one day or a series of evenings to call all your donors.
This is a great job for board members; it feels really good to just simply say thank you.
Start thanking your donors today. It is a necessity. Not only does it help to strengthen relationships with them, but it’s also a great retention strategy. Your nonprofit will have a donor-centered culture that will establish trust and invites donors to continue on the journey with you.
Hopefully, this list along with the tips will get you and your nonprofit started towards thank you success. There’s no wrong way to thank a donor – but there are plenty of ways to go above and beyond. Try out some of our tips and see if you can turn a one-time donor into a repeat investor!
I hope this helps. Your feedback is appreciated.
If you are a CEO or ED of a nonprofit organization and want to learn from me and others join the Supporting World Hope Facebook Group.
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