Year-end fundraising season is underway. You may have started working on your appeal, which is great. But don’t stop there. It’s just as important, if not more important, to plan how you’ll thank your donors.
I highly recommend creating a thank you plan, which will help you show gratitude before, during, and after a campaign.
Many organizations treat thanking their donors as an afterthought and it shows. You can’t do that. It will hurt your chances to get future donations. If someone gives to your organization, they deserve to be showered with appreciation.
There are many ways to thank your donors after an appeal – by mail, phone, email, on your website, or a combination of those. The more you can do, the better.
Thanking your donors is something you need to do well. Don’t shortchange your donors with a lame, generic thank you.
Make thanking your donors a priority. Here are a few ways to do a better job of thanking your donors.
Start planning now
Don’t wait until the day after your appeal goes out. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. Write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal. Remember, things often take longer than you think.
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.
I understand that handwritten notes and phone calls may be hard to do right now. At the very least, your donors should get a letter, even if they’ve donated online. Whatever you decide, remember to get started on the content now.
In the past, the standard was to send thank you letters within 48 hours. If that’s too hard to do now, don’t wait much longer than a week. Make sure you’re ready to go when the donations come in.
Make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you note
I love it when a nonprofit sends a handwritten thank you note. This is a rare occurrence, so if you do it, your thank you note will stand out in your donor’s mailbox.
Handwritten notes are great in many ways, but one advantage is you don’t have to write that much. In fact, you can do one in just a few minutes.
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 to help you with this.
Think about how much your donors will appreciate this nice gesture. Here’s a sample note.
Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $75. We’re still seeing more people coming into the Northside Community Food Pantry. Rising food prices are making it difficult for many families to afford groceries. Your generous gift will help a lot. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past five years.
Phone calls are another personal way to show gratitude
Calling first-time donors is known to improve retention rates. But you could also call long-time donors to make them feel special.
Again, you want to get a team together to help. This is a great thing for your board to do. You may need to do a short training first. Here’s a sample phone script.
Hi Steve, this is Lisa Walsh and I’m a board member at the Northside Community Food Pantry. Thank you so much for your generous donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help feed more local families right now. Many of them are struggling due to rising food prices.
Write an incredible thank you letter
If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an incredible thank you letter. Many thank you letters aren’t incredible at all and are mediocre at best. You’ll have an advantage if you take some time to create a great, donor-centered letter.
The purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donors. Keep that in mind at all times.
Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization…. If you’re sending it on your letterhead, it should be obvious it’s coming from your organization. Instead, start your letter with – Thank you, You’re amazing, or You did something great today!
You also don’t need to explain what your organization does. This often comes across as bragging 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. You can ask again another time. Always keep gratitude front and center.
Write separate thank you letters for different types of donors. Welcome new donors and welcome back your current donors. Monthly donors should also get special recognition.
Your thank you letter needs to make your donors feel good about giving to your organization. Let them know how their gift is helping you make a difference. Include a brief story or example. Make it relevant to our current situations.
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!, and use a nice stamp (You can buy thank you stamps). 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, or include it on a separate page. 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.
Create a more personal online thank you
The thank you plan I reference above gives you advice on how to create better thank you landing pages and email acknowledgments. These often come across as transactional. You need to think of the donations you receive as the start or continuation of a relationship, not a transaction.
Remember, even though your online donors will get an electronic acknowledgment, they should still get thanked by mail or phone.
With all the uncertainty that’s going on, it’s crucial to do a good job of thanking your donors, both now and throughout the year.
Keep reading for more advice on letting your donors know how much you appreciate them.