The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

Nine Mistakes Nonprofits Make Thanking Donors

Thank you lost art.jpgThanking donors is the one thing most nonprofits do not spend enough time thinking about. Too often I find that staff spend 95 percent of their time crafting the fundraising appeal and getting embroiled in project management—design; layout; printing, postage, etc. Finally, the letter (or e-appeal) is ready to launch. The mailing is dropped/the button is punched and ... voila! Gifts start to arrive! But then what?!

After you’ve sent out your appeal is too late to start thinking about what your thank-you letter or email will say. Or who will sign it. Or whether someone who donates online will also receive an actual letter. Or thank-you call. Or who will make the call. Everything must be well thought out in advance. You must be ready to go, with different templates and strategies for different target audiences, well before you’ve asked for your first donation.

What would Miss Manners have to say about the way you too often focus more on the gift than on the giver? She would not be happy. Not happy at all. So, make a vow to remedy this situation NOW to assure you retain all your 2016 donors.

Nine Thank-You Mistakes to Avoid

1. Delaying

Your thank-you should get out the door within 48 hours. Period. No arguments. People will try to tell you they don’t care if they don’t hear from charities for a week ... a month ... whatever. Don’t believe them. Penelope Burk, author of "Donor-Centered Fundraising,” has proved otherwise. If you don’t thank donors promptly, you’re destroying all the rest of your hard work. The most important predictor of likelihood to give is recency. If it takes you over a month to process a donor’s gift, then you’re missing out on his or her most-likely-to-give-again period. Timely follow-up matters. A lot.

2. Misspelling

You absolutely must spell the donor’s name correctly. There is no excuse for getting this wrong. None. It’s just plain sloppy. And it borders on rude. How would your friend feel if you misspelled her name on a thank-you card for your birthday gift? Your friend would feel like you didn’t know who she was. Enough said.

3. Failing to Personalize the Salutation

Personalization matters. Per the most recent Abila Donor Loyalty Study, approximately 71 percent of donors feel more engaged with a nonprofit when they receive content that’s personalized. It’s so easy to do this these days with CRM and mail-merge programs. Not doing it is lazy. Unless you absolutely know you have a constituent that prefers a formal salutation, use the familiar (i.e., first name). Except for judges and elected officials and military personnel, almost everyone else goes by his or her first name. And if they use a nickname (or have a pesky initial), then you’d better put this into the right field in your database. There’s nothing quite as awkward as “Dear Ms. R. Beatrice” when the donor goes by “Bitty.” Remember: build a personal relationship. Be friendly.

4. Yawn-Inducing Content

A thank-you letter is an opportunity to make your donor feel warm and fuzzy. When you begin your letter with “Thank you on behalf of the board, staff, and all those who are helped by your generosity ...,” you put your donor to sleep. Generic and/or jargon-filled acknowledgements are just you checking the thank-you off your list. They do little for the donor, and less for you. They certainly don’t set your donor up to want to give to you again.

Jimmy will go to sleep tonight with a full tummy, because you cared. (Food program)

You remembered, because Gloria could not. (Alzheimer’s care)

The glass of water she drinks today will not make her sick. (Clean water)

Rather than providing a transactional receipt, offer a transformational experience.

5. Neglecting to Mention Something a Donor Asked You to Do

If your donor asked for his gift to remain anonymous, the thank-you letter should reflect this. If she earmarked the gift for a particular purpose, she wants to be reassured that this is how you’ll use the money. If he asked for pledge reminders, he wants to know you’ll stay on top of this. And so on. Donors want to know you listen.

6. Forgetting to Tell the Specific Impact the Gift Will Have

Even bar mitzvah kids know to tell folks that they really needed that fountain pen and they’ll be putting it to work immediately to write thank-you notes! The donor wants to know (1) you really needed his gift, and (2) how wisely you will use her investment for the purpose she intended.

7. Overlooking the Opportunity to Provide Something of Value

Remember, philanthropy is all about the value-for-value exchange. Good donor stewardship requires a give and take; a back and forth. Sadly, giving isn’t always its own reward. It’s up to you to reward your donor and help him to feel like the hero he is. What gifts can you give? A way she can volunteer ... a thank-you from a supporter ... a means to get involved as an advocate ... a list of tips he can use? Give your donor something of value now to continue the circle of giving and getting.

8. Not Including the Name of a Contact Person

What if the donor has a question? What if you made a mistake in her letter? What if he wants to do more for you? How is he or she going to reach the right person if you don’t give a name, phone number, and email? Again, this is about building personal relationships. Donors must be able to reach you easily.

9. Sounding like you’re asking for more

You’ll notice I didn’t say simply asking for more. While this is certainly a "no-no" (a thank-you should be pure), it’s equally important to avoid the appearance of asking. Take a good look at your thank-you letters. Do they sound a lot like a solicitation? Are you still moaning about the need in the community, bragging about all the people you help, and adding that there’s still so much to do An Abila Donor Engagement Study found that 21 percent of donors say they were never thanked for their gifts. Some weren’t, but my hunch is that a lot were. They just didn’t perceive what you sent them to be a thank you. Too often thank you letters sound exactly like fundraising letters.

Serious about donor retention?

You may want to get my Attitude of Gratitude Donor Guide. It’s filled with everything I’ve learned about donor acknowledgement over the years, all tucked it into one handy no-nonsense guide on the practice of gratitude. 106 full pages, with lots of ready-to-use samples and templates. Plus it includes the Creative Ways to Thank Your Donors E-Book—with 60+ ideas for you to steal! All Clairification products comes with a 30-day no-questions-asked money-back guarantee.

Claire_Axelrad_077small.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE. Claire was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification.

Topics: Donor Relations