How Do You Acknowledge Your Memorial Gifts?


I’ve been to several memorial services over the last few years. I guess that’s what happens as you get older.  In most cases, the families designated charities to donate to, often in lieu of flowers.  I’ve always liked this.  You get to honor someone and support a charity, as well.

I gave five memorial gifts over the last two years. Unfortunately, the responses from the nonprofits were pretty marginal.   Four organizations sent generic thank you letters.  Three of them acknowledged it was a memorial gift. One sent a very generic email with no acknowledgement this was a memorial gift.

If your organization is a recipient of a memorial gift, don’t miss this opportunity to connect and build relationships with these donors. Just think, out of the multitude of nonprofits and charities out there, the family chose yours (they may have chosen one or two others, too).

How do acknowledge your memorial gifts?   Do you send the same old boring thank you letter, or do you give some thought to creating a personal and heartfelt thank you.  Here’s how you can do a better job of acknowledging your memorial gifts.

Work with the family

Most likely the family will contact you about being a recipient of a memorial gift.  Talk to them and ask why your organization was important to this person.  Perhaps he was a volunteer, donor, or patient.  Use this information in your thank letter.

Give the family the names and addresses (not amounts) of any donors in case they want to write their own thank you letters.

Thank your donors right away

This is basic Thank You Letter 101.  I received one letter four months after my donation and another came three months later.  In both cases the organizations weren’t spending the extra time writing a great thank you letter.  Instead, I received this – “We are sincerely grateful for your support. Our goals are ambitious ones and the charitable contributions we receive from supporters like you make our mission achievable.”  The other two letters arrived about a week after the donation.

Acknowledge that it’s a memorial gift

Segmenting your thank you letters is always a good idea, whether it’s a new donation, upgrade, or a gift in memory of someone.  You want to recognize each donor.

Be sure to add a field on your donation page and pledge form for memorial gifts.

Make the thank you personal

This donor just lost someone they knew, perhaps someone close to them.   Don’t send them an impersonal form letter, like the example above.

This is a great time to send a handwritten note.  You may not have that many memorial gifts and they’re going to come at different times of the year, not necessarily during a fundraising campaign.  Take time to create something personal.

As with all thank you notes/letters, let the donor know how her gift is helping you make a difference.

Here’s a sample.

Thank you so much for your donation in memory of John Smith. John was a longtime donor and was very committed to fighting homelessness.  Because of your generous gift, we can help more families find a place to call home.

Build relationships

Never miss an opportunity to build relationships.  Invite these donors to sign up for your newsletter, follow you on social media, or volunteer. Only one of the letters I received listed ways to get involved with the organization.

Don’t take your memorial donors for granted. They may not have donated to your organization if they didn’t have some interest what you do.  Keep them interested and engaged.

Read on for information and sample letters.

In lieu of flowers: how to write lively memorial donation thank-you letters

Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?


We hear the term donor-centered a lot, and it’s pretty self-explanatory.  You want to focus on your donors’ needs and interests and take into account that not all donors are the same.

Is your organization donor-centered? Find out by taking this test.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Are your fundraising appeals focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are?  Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for the people/community you serve.
  • Are your appeals segmented to the appropriate audience?  Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor.  Maybe they are event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Are your appeals addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Are your appeals vague, impersonal, and filled with jargon your donors won’t understand?  Don’t say we are helping disenfranchised members of the community.  A donor-centered appeal would say something like – With your support, we can help low-income families find affordable housing.
  • Do your appeals make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Do your thank you letters come across as transactional and resemble a receipt? Yes, you need to acknowledge that the donation is tax deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Do your thank you letters (or better yet, a handwritten note) shower your donors with love?  Start your letter with You’re fabulous or Thanks to You!
  • Are you telling your donors the impact of their gift?  For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, we can provide groceries for a family of four at the Eastside Community Food Bank.
  • Do you recognize each donor?   Is this the first time someone has donated?  If someone donated before, did she increase her gift?  Acknowledge this in your letter/note.


  • Do your newsletters sound self-promotional and drone on about the wonderful things your organization is doing instead of showing your donors how they are helping you make a difference?
  • Is your newsletter written in the second person?  Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass? BTW, all your donor communication should be written in the second person.  It’s much more personal.
  • Does your newsletter include success stories, engaging photos, and other content your donors want to see?
  • Are you using the right channels?  Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Are you showing gratitude to your donors in your newsletter?

Always think of your donors

Use these test questions on other donor communication such as annual reports, your website, and social media posts.

How did you do?

Be sure every message you send to your donors focuses on them and makes them feel special.

Read on for more information on how to be donor-centered and wallpaper your office with this donor-centered pledge. Take the Donor-Centered Pledge 

Is Your Organization Sufficiently Donor-Centered?

Strategies to Build Donor Love — How to Create Donor-Centric Communication and Response

Make a Resolution to Keep Your Donors


Happy New Year!   I hope you had a nice holiday.  I had a great two-week vacation in Florida with my family.

I also hope you had a successful year-end fundraising campaign.  Did you get a bunch of new donors and renewals, or did you lose some people?

One of the biggest reasons donors flee is because they believe the organization doesn’t do a good job of staying in touch and keeping them engaged. We can change this!

Charities That Focus on Retention Will Change the World

The Secret Sauce of Donor Retention: Gratitude + Great Communication

This year make a resolution to do everything you can to keep your donors.  Here’s what you can do.

Welcome new donors with open arms

The biggest attrition comes between the first and second donation.  Shower your new donors with love.  Call to thank them for their donation. Send them a welcome packet by mail or email, and include a short survey asking what drew them to your organization.

Welcome Your New Donors With Open Arms

Create a great thank you experience

Spend time creating a great thank you experience for your donors –  from the landing page to the email response to the phone call or handwritten note.   Make it personal and genuine.

Remember, thanking your donors doesn’t end after they make a donation.  Find ways to thank your donors throughout the year.

How to Create a Thank You Plan

Make Gratitude Your Nonprofit Organization’s Focus in 2015 – Here’s How!

More vs. better

You may already send monthly e-newsletters and regular social media updates, but that doesn’t mean much if you’re bragging about how great your organization is and posting pictures of your CEO receiving an award.

Do better. Share content that will interest your donors, such as success stories about the people/community you serve and engaging photos of your programs in action.  Let your donors know how they are helping you make a difference.

Listen to you donors

Find out how your donors want you to communicate with them.  Don’t spend a lot of time on social media if your donors aren’t using it.  You may find some of your donors don’t communicate electronically, which means you’ll need to plan to mail newsletters, postcards, and handwritten notes at least a few times a year.

Also, monitor how your donors are responding to email and social media.  Pay attention to what they’re telling (and not telling) you.

Use a communications calendar

This will make it easier for you to come up with and organize your content.  Take into account what your donors want to hear from you and which channels they prefer.

Besides newsletters, updates, and photos, you can also keep in touch with advocacy alerts and short surveys.

Stay Connected Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar

Make it personal

Building relationships is the key to having long-term donors,  but who wants to have a relationship with someone who’s distant and formal?

Be personal and conversational when you write.  Ditch the jargon and use language your donors will understand.  Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

Know what works

Again, measure how your donors respond to your messages.  Are they responding at all?  Perhaps short weekly updates get a better response than your monthly newsletter.

If you are not getting much of a response from your surveys, either do them differently or find another way to engage.

Don’t stop

Keep communicating regularly with your donors and keep them engaged so they’ll stay with you for a long time.

How do you stay in touch with your donors?

Photo by Carol VanHook

Five Ways to Improve Your Fundraising and Communications in 2015


2014 is winding down and the New Year is just around the corner.  I hope you had a successful year.

The end of the year is a good time to figure out what worked and where you can make improvements for next year.

Here are five ways you can improve your fundraising and communications in 2015.

Tell stories

Don’t bore your donors with a lot of facts and statistics.  Tell a story.  Use stories in your appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletters, annual reports, and on your website.

Take time to create stories and profiles of clients, board members, volunteers, donors, and staff members.  It’s okay to use stories more than once.

A couple of appeals I received used first-person stories, which can be very compelling.  Be sure to use the person’s own words.  In an appeal from a college-age woman who attended a theater’s program for 14-20 year olds, she writes “Donors help advance the theater’s mission…”  I doubt that’s language she would use.

Create a memorable thank you experience

Nonprofit organizations can do a better job of thanking their donors. Some thank you letters look like computer-generated receipts.

Instead of going through the motions, create a memorable thank you experience.  Make your donors feel good about donating to your organization. Give them specific examples of how their gift is helping you make a difference.

Get creative. One organization I support printed Thank You! on the outer envelope of their thank you letter.  You could also handwrite this.

Keep thanking your donors throughout the year.  Make this a priority.

Be donor-centered

So many newsletters, annual reports, and other communications sound like one big bragfest.  You don’t have to tell your donors you’re great.  They wouldn’t have donated if they didn’t find your organization worthwhile.

You need to tell them they’re great.  Again, make them feel good about being a donor.

Always put yourself in your donors’ shoes.  When thinking about what to include in your newsletter, write articles they’ll want to read, such as success stories about the people/community you serve.

Nix the swag and premiums

I receive so many mailing labels from organizations that I can wallpaper a room. Although, they do come in handy when I mail holiday cards.

You may be tempted to send swag or offer a premium if someone upgrades their gift or gives at a certain level.  Think twice about doing that.

Here’s a better idea from a community foundation.  They found an anonymous donor who will match all new donations and any increases in giving from 2013.

You also want donors to give because they care about your organization, not because they want a tote bag.

Pay attention to your data entry

I know data entry is tedious, but you need to do it well.  Donors don’t want to see their names misspelled.

Use the right titles too.  Personally, I don’t like being addressed as Mrs., Miss, or with my husband’s last name, but some donors will feel differently.   Include a title field, along with a space for the name of a second donor to ensure donors are addressed the way they want to be.

Use extra care when soliciting new donors.  I’ve received several appeals with serious data entry errors from organizations I don’t already support.  I was not impressed.

These are just a few improvements you can make in 2015. Can you think of any others?

Stay Connected Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar


Donor retention continues to lag. One reason is people feel they only hear from the nonprofits they support when the organizations are asking for money.

You need to communicate with your donors throughout the year.  If you’re feeling stressed about how you’re going to pull this off, then you need a communications calendar (also known as an editorial calendar).

I like the term communications calendar because it emphasizes the importance of communicating with your donors and other supporters all year round.

This is not just a job for your marketing department. All departments need to work together.  Figure out what information you need to share and when to share it.  You want a consistent stream of information – not three emails in one day and nothing for three weeks.

As you put together your communications calendar, think about how you will use different channels and which audience(s) should receive your messages. You may only send direct mail a few times a year, but send an e-newsletter once a month and communicate by social media several times a week. You’ll often use a number of different channels when you send out a fundraising appeal or promote an event.

Start big by looking at the entire year and then break it down by months and weeks.  You’ll keep adding to your communications calendar throughout the year.

Keep all your communication audience-centered and emphasize how you are making a difference for the people you serve and in the community.

Here are some categories you can use in your communications calendar. Some items will be time sensitive and others won’t be.

Does your organization hold any events? Besides your events, are there other events in your community that would be of interest to your supporters? This is a great thing to share on social media.

Advocacy alerts are a wonderful way to engage with your supporters. Be on the lookout for any federal or state legislation that’s relevant to your organization. Encourage people to contact their legislators about an issue or a bill. Then report back to them with any updates, and thank them for getting involved.

Time of year
Is there something going on during a particular month that is pertinent to your organization? Perhaps it’s homelessness awareness month or your organization was founded in March 1985.

Thanksgiving, the holidays, and winter can be a difficult time for some people. How can you weave that into your mission?

News stories
You won’t be able to predict news stories in advance. However, if there’s a hot item in the news right now that’s relevant to the work you do, that could be something to share.

Fundraising and recruitment

Be sure to add your fundraising appeals to your communications calendar. You want to highlight these and not inundate your donors with a lot of other information at that time.

If your organization has specific times it needs to recruit volunteers, add that to your calendar, as well.

Thank your donors
Figure out different ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. Do this at least once a month.

Ongoing content
If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell. Share a story at least once a month. Client success stories are best. You could also profile a board member, volunteer, donor, or staff member.  Be sure to highlight what drew them to your organization.

Keep it up
As you hear about other relevant information, add it to your calendar, so you can stay connected with your supporters throughout the year.

Here is more information to help you create a communications/editorial calendar.

Take Charge of Your Communications with LightBox Collaborative’s 2015 Editorial Calendar

Editorial Calendars – Resources for You

How to Make #GivingTuesday Work for You

GT_2014Web-Banner_250x250_BlueAlt-150x150What’s your opinion of #GIvingTuesday?  Do you think it’s a great way to raise more revenue and find new donors, or is it a complete waste of time? Maybe it’s a little of both.

In case you don’t know, #Giving Tuesday is on December 2.   It’s a global day to give back and is a nice contrast to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. WHAT IS #GIVINGTUESDAY?

I like the idea of a giving day, but it may not be worth the time and resources for smaller organizations.  You don’t want to spend too much time focusing on one day. Fundraising and donor relations are a year-round effort. An Honest Look at the Pros & Cons of #GivingTuesday

Plan carefully

You may have tried #GivingTuesday campaigns in the past and been successful, which is great.  Maybe you’re planning a campaign for the first time.

If you do launch a #Giving Tuesday campaign, be sure to give equal weight to thanking your donors, including sending welcome packets to new donors.  You don’t want this to be a one-time thing. How to Convert, Retain and Upgrade Your New #GivingTuesday Donors

You also want to measure your results to make sure it’s worth doing again.

Honestly, if you haven’t started planning anything, it’s a little late to start.  But if you really want to participate in #GivingTuesday, it’s possible to make it work for you without focusing too much energy on it.  Here’s how.

Follow up with your donors

I think #Giving Tuesday is a great opportunity to follow up with people who haven’t donated to your year-end appeal.  You should be doing regular reminders, anyway. Send an email or postcard and social media messages right before #Giving Tuesday and encourage people to donate.  You can use the #Giving Tuesday logos, etc.

How did you do?  Did this bring in more donations than your usual follow up?  Obviously, you’ll want to keep following up with anyone who didn’t donate on #GivingTuesday.

Give back to your donors

We ask a lot of our donors, especially at year-end.  Why not take the time to give back to them? Fundraising Consultant Claire Axelrad has a great idea of using #Giving Tuesday as a day to thank your donors. #GivingTuesday – Your Win or Lose Day? You’re in Control

Make your personal year-end donations on #Giving Tuesday

As I said, I like the concept of #GivingTuesday, and over the past few years I’ve starting doing all my year-end giving on that day.  It’s easier to set aside one time to do your personal year-end giving. Why not choose #Giving Tuesday?

However you decide to participate in #GivingTuesday, make sure it’s something that works for your organization.

Be Thankful for Your Donors

6342540955_625d662978_zThanksgiving is a time when we show gratitude to the special people in our lives.  Do you extend this same gratitude to your donors?  Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way.

Nonprofit organizations tend to treat thanking their donors as an afterthought.  But you need to spend just as much time thanking your donors as you do on fundraising.  Here are some ways you can create an attitude of gratitude.

Thanking donors isn’t a process; it’s an experience

First off, don’t think of thanking donors as a process.  Create an experience for your donors –  an experience that will last as long as your donor supports your organization.

Go beyond sending a boring letter that looks like a receipt.  I know you need to include the tax-deductible information, but put that at the end , after you shower your donors with love.

Thank your donors right away

Every single donor, no matter how much they’ve given or whether they donated online, gets a thank you card/ letter mailed to them or receives a phone call.

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours. Carve out some time each day you get a donation and thank your donors.  If this sounds impossible, find other staff or recruit volunteers to help you.

Kick it up a notch with a handwritten note or phone call

This will mean so much more to your donors than the usual generic letter. Calling your donors to thank them is something your board can do. It’s often a welcome surprise and can raise retention rates among first-time donors.

Get everyone involved. Find board members, staff, and volunteers to make phone calls or write thank you notes. Come up with sample phone scripts and notes. You may also want to conduct a short training.

Is this coming from a human?

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal, heartfelt letter. Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization we thank you for your donation of…. Open the letter with You’re incredible, or Thanks to you, Gina won’t have to sleep in her car anymore,  or one of these 22 Delightful Ways to Say Thank You!

I’m amazed how many thank you letters sound so stilted.  Just because it’s generated by a computer, doesn’t mean it has to sound like one.  The same goes for thank you landing pages and thank you emails.

Make it personal. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

This is the beginning a beautiful friendship

You want to keep thanking your donors all year round.  One way to make it easier for you is to create a thank you plan, which you can incorporate into your communications calendar.

Try say thank you at least once a month. Here are some ways to do that.

  • Send cards or email messages at Thanksgiving, during the holidays, Valentine’s Day, or mix it up a little and send a note of gratitude at another time of the year when your donors  are less likely to expect it.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude.
  • Always thank your donors in your newsletter and social media updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without  their support.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your website, by email, and on social media. A Few Great Thank You Videos
  • Hold an open house at your organization or offer tours so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

This Thanksgiving and throughout the year, be thankful for your donors.  Treat them well so you can ensure a long-term relationship.

This post was in included in the November 2014 Nonprofit Blog Carnival  November Nonprofit Blog Carnival | An Attitude of Gratitude