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5 Things That Break My Fundraising Heart

This image shows a heart made of wood that broken and portrays the importance of marketing and communication for successful fundraising

Fundraising is the perfect job for hopeless romantics because being genuinely thoughtful and compassionate with your donors makes you a remarkably better fundraiser.

Many of the charities I give to do an incredible job of making me feel appreciated. I reward them by making another gift and if I really love them, making my gift monthly.

A lot of charities fail at appreciating their donors and the response is quick and severe. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Report, only 19% of new donors will give again after their first gift. However, once that donor makes a second gift 63% will give again.

So how do we get the second gift? Show them meaningful appreciation for their gift. According to Penelope Burk’s annual donor survey, 90% of donors say that the thank you letter is the single most important and influential communication they ever receive from not-for-profits they support.

For Valentine’s Day I wrote a cheat sheet of “21 Ways to Shower Your Donors With Love.” It got me thinking. What are the things that break my fundraising heart?

1. Fundraisers, stewardship and gift acknowledgment plans who rely on gift amount as a determinant of the appreciation the donor gets.

Donors admit to under giving with their first gift. Admit it: you do this too. No one gets married on the first date (okay, most of us don’t get married on the first date). Roll out the red carpet to new donors! Instead of relying on gift amounts focus on the longevity of the donor. Chart your stewardship plan based on longevity of giving not gift amount. Here’s a sample donor stewardship plan to help get you started.

Call out first time donors as such in your thank you letter, for example: “Dear John, I’m overjoyed to receive such a generous first-time gift from you and I’m thrilled to welcome into our donor family.”

As Tom Ahern explains in What Your Donors Want … and Why! first-time donors who receive a personal thank-you within 48 hours are four times more likely to give again. (Yes, you read that right — thanking in 48 hours equals a 400 percent improvement in renewal rates!)

2. Not receiving a thank you when I make a gift.

I do a lot of custom training and board retreats for nonprofits and sometimes make donations live during my training to allow everyone to critique the donor experience. One organization literally thanked me one yearafter I made my gift. It is not hard to thank a donor. Don’t overthink it, just do it. Want ideas? Here’s 21 tips to show your donors appreciation.

3. Boring impersonal email autoresponders and/or thank you letters that sound like a robot wrote them.

Pretty please: talk like a human, not an IRS letter. If it’s an email autoresponder make the subject line count.

Use warm conversational tone, give me credit for something great my gift will do (“You just did an amazing thing, you…”) and if you want to stand out include a photo – a close up of a kid you serve or a client.

Do not start a thank you with yawn inducing meaningless jargon like “On behalf of the board, staff and everyone we serve at ABC organization thank you.” Did you know that 80% of acknowledgement letters start with the same boring opener? “Dear X: Thank you for your generous gift of $150 received on April 17, 2019.” Here’s the good news – you can stand out! Want more help? Here are 8 fantastic thank you makeovers for you to swipe by Lisa Sargent.

4. Non-personalized communication openers like “Dear Friend”

One of the greatest gifts you can give a donor is the gift of feeling known by you! It’s entirely too easy to personalize with digital tools so there’s truly no excuse. According to Abila’s donor loyalty study 71% of donors feel more engaged when they receive content that’s personalized. Here’s a sobering case in point from a donor in Penelope Burk’s 2018 Donor Survey Report:

When my dog, Chloe, died I sent an in-memoriam gift to my local animal shelter. About four months later I received an appeal which started, “Dear Animal Lover.”  It must be hard to keep track of all the people who give to memorialize their pets. But if they had addressed me by name and included something like, …I know it’s only been a few months since Chloe died, etc… I would have written them another check immediately, and it would have been bigger than the last one.

5. Emails that come from generic email addresses like

This is a pet peeve for me. Why on earth would anyone not want their nonprofit communications to feel like they came from a real person? Why would you not want that person to be easy to identify? Relationship building is not optional in fundraising, it is the very definition of what fundraising is.

On top of using your name in your email, I recommend making yourself easy to identify by including a photo of yourself in your professional email signature file using a free signature generator tool like Wise Stamp.


This article by Rachel Muir was originally published on Bloomerang. Read the article here.

Rachel Muir, CFRE transforms individuals into confident, successful fundraisers. When she was 26 years old, Rachel Muir launched Girlstart, a non-profit organization to empower girls in math, science, engineering and technology in the living room of her apartment with $500 and a credit card. Several years later she had raised over 10 million dollars and was featured on Oprah, CNN, and the Today show.