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The Power of a Six-Month Thank You: Making donor impact real

You have gotten through the year-end avalanche of contributions. You thanked everyone promptly – even the donors of stock gifts, pledge payments, and restricted gifts. The mail flow is down to a trickle now. So thanking donors no longer takes a major chunk of each day. But before you move on to the next big thing, please make yourself a note to thank your top donors in May or June.

The immediate acknowledgement says, “We got the check, and we will put it to work.” Note the future tense.

Now fast forward six months. The donor wants to hear how the gift is being transformed into altruistic muscle fibers. The message of the six-month thank you is, “That gift is fully employed, to accomplish the work we both cherish.”

For fundraisers, the pivotal moment in the relationship is The Ask. But for donors it’s different. A donor who says yes to a request is trusting the institution to be a conduit for his or her altruism. The pivotal moment, from the donor’s perspective, is when the institution reports that the gift made a difference.

When I was a fundraiser for The Wilderness Society, I visited a donor who loved the landscape in southern Utah. The Bureau of Land Management at that time was figuring out what to do with a place called the Grand Staircase Escalante. One year, the scientists of The Wilderness Society were cataloging the unique treasures of this landscape, so they could persuade the BLM that it was worth protecting. I asked the donor if he would underwrite that research. He said yes. It was a gift of $25,000.

The next year, the BLM laid out five different alternative management plans, and The Wilderness Society advocated for the scheme that was most protective. The donor said yes again, and that year his gift paid for that advocacy.

The following year, the BLM evaded the decision and put together a management plan that postponed any tough decisions. The Wilderness Society trained activists around the West to pressure the agency to protect the Grand Staircase Escalante. The donor paid for that training.

Finally, we heard from activists that the training materials were so helpful that they should be broadened so they could be used throughout all of the land managed by the BLM. So we provided that training, and the donor paid for it.

Every year, I was able to report to the donor what the organization had done with his gift. That lead to a discussion of the opportunities we had in front of us. And the discussion of opportunities lead to our plans, which opened the door for a solicitation of his next gift. It was a wonderful cycle: solicitation leads to gift, which leads to report, which leads to solicitation.

A sincere thank you is a powerful thing. But a thank you that communicates “look what your gift accomplished” is a nearly unstoppable force. Why would a donor not keep giving to an organization that reported faithfully on the work his or her gift made possible?

Paul Jolly Paul Jolly

The preceding is a guest post by our regular contributor Paul Jolly, founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc. Paul worked as a fund raising professional for over 20 years before starting the consulting firm Jump Start Growth. He began his career serving various Quaker institutions, then moved to The Wilderness Society, and then the American Civil Liberties Union. In every instance, he has zeroed in on gifts from individuals at the top of the giving pyramid. The focus of Paul’s consulting work is bringing sophisticated major gifts fund raising practices to organizations that are outside of the philanthropic mainstream. His successes include leading three capital campaigns for organizations new to major gifts fund raising, securing millions of dollars in bequest and planned gift commitments, and bringing new life and laser-sharp focus to disheartened development departments.

Topics: Communications