"I'd like to suggest a question for your monthly newsletter," a reader wrote. "How often do you change your basic 'thanks for the donation' form letter?" She explained, "We use specific forms for special events and particular fund drives, but I worry sometimes that donors will notice that the (unsolicited) $50 check they mailed in the spring is acknowledged with the same form letter as the $100 check they mail in the fall. We've been 'having a busy and successful year' for noticeably more than just one year now."
The suggestion met all of our unofficial criteria for a Question of the Month: it was relevant to many nonprofits; it probably would elicit a range of comments; and it would provide an opportunity for readers to share their experiences with their peers in the nonprofit world. Thus, the July Question of the Month asked, "How often do you change your organization's basic form letter thanking donors for their gifts?"
ResultsOnce a year (30 percent) led the pack, followed by monthly (17 percent), every time (14 percent), and twice a year (10 percent), and four times a year (also 10 percent). Responses that fell under "Other" (19 percent) ranged from to "Whenever someone thinks about it, which is usually every one or two years," to "With each appeal."
More Than Just ThanksSeveral participants noted the larger role acknowledgment letters can play. "The thank you letter is a great opportunity to communicate and it shouldn't be wasted," wrote Stephen Slade of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation. Charla Irwin-Buncher of Channel One Food Bank and Food Shelf agreed: "The thank you letters are a way to connect with a donor."
How a nonprofit expresses thanks can make a difference, reported Tom Jansen of the Greenwich Council, Boy Scouts of America: "We have found it important to make the letter very personal and informal. We have eliminated words like 'on behalf of the board, thank you ...' and instead start our thank you letter with 'Your gift changes lives.'"
James Murphy of SCORE emphasized the message behind the thanks: "If one is to expect positive responses to fund raising, the donor needs to feel more than a 'gimme, gimme' attitude, which happens when the same letter is sent time after time, and the same to every donor."
Suzanne E. Coffman, August 2005
© 2005, Philanthropic Research, Inc. (GuideStar)
Suzanne Coffman is GuideStar's director of communications and editor of the Newsletter.