On March 2, I received thank you letters for two charitable donations I contributed back in December.
Yes, it took them two months to acknowledge my gift. Seriously?
One letter arrived from a grassroots group that’s perpetually underfunded and understaffed, so I’m tempted to let it slide…almost, but not quite.
The other letter came from a larger, more sophisticated nonprofit that really can and should do a better job.
Thank before you bank
Many years ago, my friend and colleague Kim Klein shared a useful mental shortcut: thank before you bank.
Before depositing your donations, thank your donors. This simple trick will prioritize donor acknowledgement, especially if you need to deposit the money quickly so you can pay the bills.
In the ideal world, you thank your supporters – by mail, phone, email, social media, whatever – within 48 hours of receiving the gift.
If you’re involved with one of those underfunded, understaffed nonprofits, I’ll cut you a little slack. Send your thank yous at least once per week…but don’t wait longer than that.
If your nonprofit benefits from online giving and instant deposits, the thank-before-you-bank model is little more challenging – hey, the money’s already in the bank – but the intention and discipline remain the same.
Use your board to thank your supporters
Need more thank you capacity? Engage your board.
Donor appreciation is the least-scary aspect of fundraising, so many otherwise resistant trustees can and will participate.
Here are two proactive board strategies you can implement immediately.
Bring your phone, we’re making thank you calls
I was inspired to learn about a nonprofit that begins every board meeting as follows.
Each trustee is given the name and number of a recent contributor, takes out their mobile phone, and places the following call.
“Hi, is Elaine there? Elaine, it’s Andy Robinson. I’m a volunteer board member with [name of organization.] I’m not calling tonight to ask for money. I’m just calling to say thank you.
“I understand that you recently renewed your support. I trust you received a letter from the office – I just wanted to add my personal thanks. We are so grateful.
“Do you have any questions about our work? Would you like to be involved in any way? OK, I just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate your support. Have a good evening.”
If you get voice mail instead of a human being, simply leave the same message.
These calls take about two minutes, and then the board meeting begins. Brilliant!
If it’s Friday, it’s thank you day
Here’s another option. One day each week, invite board members and other volunteers to assist with donor appreciation.
They might help with these types of tasks.
- Writing thank you notes (stock up on notecards) or adding personal notes to printed letters
- Phoning supporters, as described above
- As appropriate, organizing your beneficiaries – youth, artists, refugees, performers, whomever – to thank your members directly
- Using holidays – Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, etc. – as an opportunity to reach out to donors
- Organizing donor recognition activities
Because one thank you isn’t enough
Yes, you must thank your contributors promptly after receiving their gifts. But don’t assume that one email, letter or phone call does the job.
Let them know, from time to time, how much you appreciate their support.
For ideas and inspiration, check out our colleague Shanon Doolittle, who is a creative force of nature when it comes to thanking and engaging donors.