Take Thanking Your Donors to the Next Level

7c3e1-4759535970_a0d6f918dfMany of you may be working on your year-end appeal, which is great, but have you given any thought to how you’ll thank your donors? Thanking your donors after an appeal (and throughout the year) is equally important, yet many organizations leave this as a last minute to-do item and it shows.

Thanking your donors is something you need to take seriously. Don’t shortchange your donors with a lame, generic thank you letter. Take thanking your donors to the next level. Here’s how.

Start planning now

There are many ways to thank your donors after an appeal – by mail, phone, email, on your website, or a combination of those. Figure out what you’ll be able to do. I highly recommend a handwritten note or phone call. Can you do that for all your donors? If not, maybe you’ll break it down by new donors, long-time donors, or donors who have given a certain amount.

At the very least, your donors should get a letter, even if they’ve donated online. Whatever you decide, get started on the content now.

Impress your donors with a handwritten thank you note

I’m a big fan of handwritten thank you notes. They will stand out in your donor’s mailbox. How often do you get a handwritten card?  

Handwritten notes are great in many ways, but one advantage is you don’t have to write that much and it shouldn’t take too long. How to Write 3 Minute Thank You Notes

You could make thank you cards with an engaging photo or buy some nice thank you cards. Get together a team of board members, staff, and volunteers right after your appeal goes out and have a thank you party. Your donors will love it. Here’s a sample note.

Dear Kate,

Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $75. This will help us serve more students in our tutoring program. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past four years.

Phone calls will impress your donors, too

Another more personal way to thank your donors is with a phone call. Calling first-time donors is known to improve retention rates. But you could also call long-term donors to make them feel special.

Again, you want to get a team together for a thankathon. This is a great thing for your board to do. You may need to do a short training first. 6 Keys to Rock Thank You Calls and Retain More Donors Here’s a sample phone script.

Hi Jeff, this is Tracy Saunders and I’m a board member at One Community. Thank you so much for your donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help us purchase winter coats for homeless children.

Write an awesome letter

If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an awesome thank you letter. Many thank you letters are mediocre at best, so you’ll have an advantage if you take some time to create a great, donor-centered letter.

This sounds obvious, but thank you letters are about thanking the donor. Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization. If you’re sending it on your letterhead, it should be apparent it’s coming from your organization. Instead, start your letter with Thank you or You just did something incredible.

You also don’t need to explain what your organization does. This is usually done in a braggy way by saying something like As you know, X organization has been doing great work in the community for 20 years. Someone who’s donated to your organization should already be familiar with what you do.

And, don’t ask for another gift in your thank you letter. You did that in your appeal letter. Nothing diminishes that feel good moment by being asked to give more money again so soon. Remember, you’re supposed to be thanking your donors.

Let your donors know how their gift is helping you make a difference. Include a brief story or example.

As with all writing, make your letter personal and conversational. Write to the donor using you much more than we, and leave out jargon and any other language your donors won’t understand. Also, you must address your donors by name – not Dear Friend.

A few other ways to make your letter stand out are to use a colored envelope or include a teaser that says Thank You! If you can hand address the envelopes and include a handwritten note inside, that will help make it more personal. You could also include an engaging photo in the letter.

Yes, you do need to include the tax-deductible information, but do that at the end after you impress your donors with your letter. It’s easiest to include this with the thank you letter or email. Then you don’t have to send it again unless your donor requests it.

20 Engaging Ideas for Donation Thank You Letters

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

INFOGRAPHIC: The ULTIMATE Thank You for Nonprofits

Something else you need to do is send different letters to different types of donors. Do not send everyone the same letter.

I’ve broken it down into four basic categories, but you could include others, if relevant.

New donors

The retention rate for first-time donors is abysmal. One of the reasons is poor communication. You can help boost your retention rate by making your new donors feel special.

New donors should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter welcoming them as donors. Invite them to connect with you in other ways such as signing up for your newsletter, following you on social media, or volunteering.

Then a week or so later, send them a welcome packet by mail or email. I’ll write more about welcoming new donors in the coming weeks.

New monthly donors

Brand new donors who opt for a monthly or other recurring donation get the same special treatment mentioned above. Welcome them to your family of monthly donors. Perhaps you have a special name for your monthly donors.

Current donors

One of the biggest hurdles nonprofits face is ensuring first-time donors give a second time. If they keep giving after that, they’re showing their commitment to your organization. Don’t blow it by ignoring this.

Your current donors should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter letting them know how much you appreciate their continued support. If they’ve upgraded their gift, acknowledge that, too.

Current donors who become monthly donors

Your current donors who become monthly donors are also showing their commitment to you. They get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter thanking them for their continued support and for joining your family of monthly donors. From now on they should get specialized appeals and other communication targeted to monthly donors. More on that in a future post.

Yes, this will take extra work, but it will be worth it if you can boost your retention rate. Start working on your thank yous now so you’ll be ready to roll after your appeal goes out.

In my next post, I’ll write about how to do a better job with your online thank yous.

More thank you resources

Stewardship Techniques to Build Donor Relationships

Donor Stewardship: Create Lifelong Donors in 10 Steps

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