7 ways to say thanks

It breaks my fundraising heart when I hear about gifts going unthanked.

Saying thank you isn’t just polite; it’s the key to cultivating small gifts into major gifts. Poor donor appreciation has serious financial consequences because failing to properly steward your small gifts ensures they can’t grow into major gifts.

I recently read a story about Gail, a donor who has been giving consistently for over 30 years to the same organizations and has never had her cumulative gifts recognized.  None of the groups she supports have identified her as a major gift or planed gift prospect. Gail’s giving pattern is consistent with our research on generational giving.

So why do so many orgs get this wrong? Why do so many gifts knowingly go unthanked? And when did (enter my personal pet peeve) people start thinking a tax receipt letter could suffice as a thank you?

The answer to most of those questions would likely be limited staff resources. Or incomplete donor records. Or a lack of time overall.

But no matter what the reason, every donor has the right to what the Association of Fundraising Professionals refers to as the ‘donor bill of rights’, which includes the right to “receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition.” Regardless of the gift size or the channel through which they made their gift, prompt, sincere, accurate appreciation is the first thing that needs to happen, preferably within 24 hours (but no later than 48) of receiving the gift.

Making people feel appreciated never goes out of style. Doing it well is the least expensive way to significantly grow your major gifts program.  My advice is give your donors 7 stewardship touches annually.

To get you started, here are 7 creative ways to say thank you and steward your donors:

  1. Have an intern or volunteer prepare a stack of thank you cards on your stationary with a printed digital photo that highlights your mission: a child at play, a family together, a student at work, a natural reserve, you get the picture. If you need someone else to write it and/or sign it you can, but make sure they go out within 24-48 hours of receiving the gift.
  2. Have your Executive Director call and thank the donor within 48 hours.
  3. Have a mini thank-a-thon at your monthly board meetings.  Give each board member a handful of phone numbers to call and a thank you script if you like.  If calling isn’t possible circulate prepared and addressed thank you cards for them to sign or write a note on.  I prefer the phone call approach.  Even if they get voice mail the donor will appreciate the personal thanks from a board member.  As an added bonus, thank-a-thons are some of the most rewarding and painless ways to get board members introduced and involved in fundraising!
  4. Have a client, volunteer, recipient of your programs or parent of one of your students write a personal thank you note to your donor.
  5. Create a mission moment: invite your donor to come tour your facility, visit your program or attend your event to personally see in person how their gift is making an impact in the community.
  6. Add the donor to your mailing list to receive your annual holiday card, annual report, and/or newsletter. If they’ve just made a gift consider suppressing their name from an ask appeal for 12 months.
  7. Recognize their gift in your annual report.

Hungry for more ideas of how to engage your donors? Invite them to be involved in your programs by speaking to your clients or students. Ask them to serve on a committee. Call on them occasionally to ask their opinions or advice. Call just to check on them and see how they are doing. Give them a tour of your facilities. Write award nominations for them to recognize them for their community service.

Have a personal story about what worked, a favorite way to say thanks or a new idea to make your donors feel valued? Share it with us!