As you develop your annual strategic donor acknowledgment plan, adopt a gratitude culture that seeks every opportunity to say thank you. This establishes trust and invites folks to continue on the journey with you. The following are the best ways to do it!
The gold standard, and what people expect, is a prompt and personal mailed thank you letter. Not a canned receipt. Something you took time with and stopped for a minute to think about your particular donor’s individual contribution. After all, they took time to earn the money they gave to you; it’s the least you can do to return the favor. Next time you think of the old adage “time is money,” think about spending some time to craft a thank you that will be appreciated. That’s how you’ll get more money in the future.
TIP: Add a personal handwritten note. This immediately elevates the thank you from “canned” to special.
This is what you send, immediately, when donors give online. But don’t use the canned acknowledgment provided by your CRM or email provider. Donors can tell when something is automated, and they perceive it as “I guess they don’t really care about me.”
TIP: Attach a brief video or a photo that shows how their gift will be used, and let them know they’ll receive their ‘official’ thank you later in the mail. Don’t treat online donors as second-class citizens. If offline donors get a personal note, welcome package and maybe a token gift, make sure your online donors get the same relationship-building touches. Yes, it’s easier and less expensive to forego the mailed letter in the short run. In the long run, you’ll likely retain more donors if you send both types of acknowledgments. If you’re doubtful, test this.
3. Phone Call
This is your secret weapon, perhaps the most under-utilized ways of thanking donors, and probably the method that has the most lasting impact. If you do it, you’ll really stand out. In a good way.
Sending a thank you letter for a gift may sound easier than making a call, but for many donors, it may be well worth it to pick up the phone to say thank you — in addition to sending a letter before or after.
If you’re a doubter, allow me to clue you into a famous experiment by Penelope Burk, author of Donor-Centered Fundraising. In a test with board members calling to thank donors within 48 hours, those called gave an average of 39% more than those not called – and they gave 42% more even after 14 months! Calls, it seems, have a real lasting value. This research has been recently confirmed, and it’s definitely something I’d recommend you test for yourself.
TIP: Learn: (1) Who to call; (2) Who should make the call; (3) When to call; (4) How to call; (5) What to say, and (6) Next steps by heading over to Clairification and grabbing my free “Donor Thank You Calls E-Book + Script.”
TIP: Make sure you ask donors for their phone numbers on your response devices and donation pages! Bloomerang conducted an experiment to see how 50 randomly selected nonprofits in the Indianapolis-metro area responded to their first-time $5 gifts. Not a single nonprofit of 50 called to thank the new donors. In fact, only 38% asked for a phone number! If you want to be able to communicate easily with your donors, figure out some strategies to ask for phone numbers.
It used to be expensive to create a video. No more. Today anyone with a smartphone can create a perfectly serviceable thank you video – one that is warm and genuine. It can be as simple as you pushing “record” and talking into the phone camera.
TIP: Take photos of staff or program recipients holding thank you signs; then use a simple app to edit them into a quick slideshow. You can even add music. Just make sure your thank you video is brief (probably under 30 seconds).
5. Donation Thank You, Landing Page
Your thank-you landing page is a valuable, too-often overlooked piece of real estate. Most organizations simply put cursory thank you language there, and may even use canned language from their email service or CRM provider. This is like having a piece of Monopoly property, but never building a house or hotel on it. It’s fine, but won’t help you win the game.
TIP: Include a compelling image or brief video that tells a story demonstrating the impact of your donor’s gift. Like any other thank you, this landing page should be considered an opportunity to predispose your donor to make the next gift. But don’t sell; show and tell.
6. Social media
This is a great way to keep gratitude flowing throughout the year, and it’s relatively inexpensive. Simply send high fives to your donors using the channels they most frequent (which, of course, you can ascertain by asking them using a survey or response device).
TIP: Sprinkle “because of you” throughout your messaging. Include a link to a video that makes your donor feel good about those being helped – because of their support.
Some donors, especially younger ones, communicate primarily through text. These folks may actually prefer a text thank you over an emailed one (which it may take them a week to open).
TIP: Consider your audience in crafting your “Thank you” strategy. Texting may be a viable primary or secondary strategy, especially if you’ll otherwise have difficulty getting out a thank you within 48 hours.
8. E-newsletter or blog
A newsletter is a terrible thing to waste, especially as it provides an easy, regular opportunity to make your donors feel good. Don’t miss an opportunity to sprinkle one or more thank you’s and pats on the back to your donors every time you send one out. Donors are the heart of your mission and make your work possible. Give credit where it’s due. Every time.
TIP: In addition to thanking donors in general, consider thanking specific donors. Praise grows in a public setting, and this can be a nice relationship-building touch for those to whom you’re particularly grateful. And don’t just thank major donors this way. Try thanking the kid who saved up all their pennies or held a bake sale. This can get an entire family to hang in with you for the long-term, plus it also inspires copycats.
9. Annual report
An annual report is a terrible thing to waste. Even if you don’t include a donor honor roll because you’ve decided it’s too resource-intensive, you can still acknowledge you’d have nothing to report on without donor support.
TIP: Thank donors in the letter from the E.D. or board president, rather than simply talking about how “we did this” and “our organization accomplished that.” Make it about the donors. Also, sprinkle thank you’s throughout the body of your report copy. When you report on a program, conclude with “this was only possible with the support of our corporate partners, foundation friends, and individual supporters.”
10. Event program
An event program is a terrible thing to waste, especially since you’ve gathered a crowd in person! Don’t just include donor names in the printed program; recognize donors from the podium or stage!
TIP: Consider adding special recognition touches (e.g., distribute logo pins; hold a donor thank you reception or after-party, offer free or discounted parking, welcome donors with pinned carnations or glasses of bubbly; invite students to come and sing a special song in tribute to donors, etc.).
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, is Principal of the social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by AFP, Claire teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, is a presenter for 4GOOD Nonprofit Webinars, a regular contributor on nonprofit social media to Maximize Social Business and was named “Best Fundraising Blog of 2013” by FundRaising Success Magazine.