I was surprised at a local nonprofit fundraising event recently. During the event, three people made a point of thanking me for my financial support. I only knew one of them, the Executive Director, the other two were a staff member and a volunteer. They all knew my name and knew I had donated.
Of course, I always receive the obligatory thank-you letter from nonprofits I donate to, but this was different. Clearly, this organization has a culture of gratitude for philanthropy. Many nonprofits are so focused on their mission (rightfully so) that they sometimes forget that donations drive their capacity to do their good work.
Finding ways to express genuine appreciation is a proven recipe to increase donor retention. So, come up with ideas for your whole team to be involved in expressing gratitude to supporters. I felt much more connected to that charity as a result of the heartfelt thankfulness. It gave me a better giving experience and made me want to continue to provide support.
>>An organization-wide thank-you policy will increase donor retention.
A clear thank-you policy that includes everyone in the organization—staff, volunteers, and board members—will remind donors how valuable they are to the success of your efforts. It will also highlight the important role of fundraising in your mission. Share the names of your donors with them and invite them to express their gratitude.
Here are some questions to guide your policy development:
- Who should receive a thank you letter?
- When does your organization say thank you?
- What are some ways you deliver the thanks?
- Who does the acknowledgment come from?
- What message is in your thanks?
- How do you handle recurring gifts?
- Is this a first time gift?
- Is it a single gift or a recurring donation?
- Have you sent the donor a thank-you note before?
After you answer these questions, it’s time to create a donor matrix. Classy, providing online fundraising support for nonprofits, shares a great stewardship matrix that you can use as a blueprint. For example, your matrix will categorize donors according to the amount and frequency of their gift, how you plan to thank them (verbal, letter, digital), and your future development plans. The matrix will provide a customized approach for each donor and help you avoid scrambling to write thank-you letters on a case-by-case basis. Donors will feel acknowledged and special.
>>Pay special attention to recurring gifts.
NextAfter and Salesforce recently released the Non-Profit Recurring Giving Benchmark Study. This research shows that 91% of organizations stop acknowledging recurring donations after the third month. I was shocked to read this statistic. These are the exact donors you want to keep close to your organization. So, use this opportunity to find ways to encourage and cultivate them.
Don’t use boring, cookie-cutter language in your thank you letters. Find words to connect your donor more closely with your mission. This is a time to deepen your relationship with your supporter, not just to provide a receipt. Keep in mind that, according to Network for Good, recurring donors give 50% more per year than one-time donors.
>>Common thank you letter mistakes can trip you up.
GuideStar identifies 9 mistakes non-profits often make with donor thank you communications. Some of the most obvious are:
- Misspelling the donor’s name
- Not personalizing the greeting
- Failing to mention the impact of their gift
Here’s another mistake to add to the list: Using a stamp instead of an original signature. I don’t care how many letters need to be signed, a stamp is impersonal and is never acceptable. Using a stamp conveys to the donor that they aren’t important enough to warrant your time. It will definitely discourage future gifts.
And use only your first name on the signature line. This sends a warmer, more personal, message. To have an even greater impact, you can write a short handwritten note next to your signature or at the top of the page. This is especially effective for major donors.
>>Technology can help but only if you personalize it.
I was pleasantly surprised to receive a personalized acknowledgement of my end-of-year donation to several organizations just moments after I made my contribution. I realize it was computer-generated from a CRM but it was comforting to know that my donation was received. Of course, they sent a regular thank you letter later; but I was impressed that they recognized my gift so quickly. It made me feel that the charity had efficient systems and, therefore, I could trust them with my donation.
Just remember that an automated thank-you does not replace the importance of high-touch, personal acknowledgment. Expressing your gratitude every chance you get is a surefire way to increase donor retention ad give people the warm fuzzy feeling that keeps the giving.
In addition to acknowledging your donors, be sure to thank the teams that work tirelessly behind the scenes to help you achieve your mission. Create a recognition program for your support staff and volunteers. Acknowledge your fundraisers for hitting their goals. You can even consider thanking your partners, vendors, and providers to let them know the impact their support has on your overall cause.
There are countless ways you can bring your thank-you strategy to life. At the end of the day, just remember to be genuine and express your gratitude often.