How to Say Thank You to Donors the Right Way

October 23, 2019
3 minutes

You know that donor stewardship is something you absolutely should be doing, but hey, you’ve got a bunch of last-minute fires to put out, so who in the heck has time for that? Are donor robocalls a thing? That auto-generated thank you letter or email is probably looking really good right about now, right? 

Not so fast there, fundraiser! While automating your acknowledgments should absolutely be a part of your fundraising strategy, failing to send an appropriate thank you letter could harm your bottom line. Without making the time to thank your donors the right way for their generous donations, you're creating a leaky fundraising bucket. Sure, you may be securing new donors, but you could also be losing donors—perhaps even at a higher rate than you're bringing them in (yikes!).

The implications of poor donor stewardship don't just impact your organization; it also impacts donors. Donors are excited to make a gift to your organization. They eagerly completed that online donation form or mailed in their check. And then, bam—your organization leaves them high and dry with a form thank you letter, or worse, radio silence. Talk about a lousy giving experience!

We know you’re striving for excellence and want to delight your donors, so let’s talk about how to say thank you to your donors the right way.

Nail the first 48 hours

The first 48 hours after a donor makes their gift is critical. Two things must happen—the thank you letter needs to be in the mail and a thank you phone call must be made to the donor.

Promptness is the name of the game. If your board members, staff, or volunteers can call donors within 48 hours, not only will they be inclined to give again, but they're more likely to stick around for the longterm. And since donor retention eats donor acquisition for breakfast, your return on investment on this small but mighty deed is huge.

The perfect thank you letter

A well-meaning thank you letter goes a long way, but a lot of the time, we don't get them out the door in a timely manner. We know it's hard nonprofit friends, but donors are what make the nonprofit world go 'round so you gotta prioritize them. One of the biggest roadblocks to sending a thank you letter in a timely matter is outdated data. Part of sending a great thank you letter is making sure all your donor info is correct and up-to-date. Sending a thank you to John but addressing it to Joan can end a donor relationship before it even starts. Here's a short checklist to help you ensure your donor thank you letter is in tip-top shape and ready to get out the door:

  • Triple check your merge fields such as name and gift amounts
  • Make sure the donor’s name is spelled correctly
  • Include a quote, testimonial, or microstory from someone who's benefited from your organization’s work.
  • Include information about how the gift will be used and what impact it will have.
  • Ensure the letter is signed by the appropriate person. This may be the CEO or it could be a grateful client.

Want extra brownie points? If you’re sending snail mail, add a handwritten note at the bottom of the letter to let donors know that a real person has seen their donation.

Think donor experience

Okay, so we’ve talked about the first 48 hours after a gift is made and how you can ensure donors get the warm fuzzies from your org. And because you’re one smart fundraiser, you know relationship building is a long game, so you want to keep the awesome experience going.

Keep the momentum going by having a plan for communication and stewardship of your amazing donors. Here are some things you could do.

  • Create a donor-specific newsletter to showcase donor impact
  • Send donors a Valentine’s Day or card for a holiday relevant to your cause.
  • Recognize donor giving anniversaries of 1, 5, 10 and 20 years
  • Add value to your donors’ lives by sharing your organization’s expertise in ways that may be useful to them
  • Host a donor appreciation event where they can also get to know the staff and ask questions

Time to start thanking donors the right way. We’re here to cheer you on to donor stewardship glory!

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