Your acknowledgment/thank you’s should be:
For everyone. E-very-one. I once worked with a nonprofit that thanked everyone who gave $250+ on letterhead, $10-249 on copy paper, and under $10 not at all. My first step was to thank everyone. I know that the love discussion from yesterday can come under pressure when finances are tight. But as an exercise, go back and look at the first donors of your last ten large bequests. My guess is that the majority were under $20 and some under $10. Thanking everyone is not only right and polite; it is a great investment in your long term.
That doesn’t mean that you have to ask for a $2 gift again, or in the same way. You still have a responsibility to maximize your contribution toward your cause. But you do have to be grateful that they gave a gift.
That doesn’t all mean that you shouldn’t differentiate your thank you’s.
Differentiated by reason for giving. Part of making people feel special is to treat them specially.*
Your different types of donors are supporting different types of things for different reasons. Your monthly sustaining donors are giving, presumably, because of appeals you have make about the need for steady, predictable income. Your advocacy donors – those who donated in conjunction with an urgent appeal for change – are going to be the exact opposite. They will be looking to support the urgent rather than the constant need. Thus, the messaging should be dissimilar for these.
Differentiated by lifecycle. If someone is a lapsed donor who is reactivating, remember the prodigal son. Now is the time to kill the metaphorical fatted calf and welcome them back and letting them know you appreciate that they are coming back, especially if you had been using lapsed-type “why has thou forsaken us?” language to get them back.
Similarly, new donors should have a whole new set of acknowledgment and onboarding messages. I won’t repeat my blog post on onboarding for new donors and supporters, except to commend that piece to you.
Differentiated by amount given/quality of supporter. This in part pragmatic – you want to invest more in keeping your better donors. But it is oft said that smaller gifts are given from the heart and major gifts are given from the brain. This is partly misleading, in that you have to engage the heart of your major donors first, but the pitch that you make to a major donor is more about the long-term impact that they are going to make with their investment. Similar language just isn’t appropriate for a $10 donor, who is helping your mission, but not because of a transformative legacy they are looking to leave. There too is a difference in messaging necessitated by a difference in reasoning.
And then there’s the obvious part – your largest donors should have higher touch acknowledgments. That includes handwritten notes, personal phone calls, cards for special occasions like birthdays or holidays. The key that many, many organizations forget is not to let high touch get in the way of a timely thank you. If you normally send out thank you letters every day, but your high dollar donors get a letter from your ED that s/he sends out every 1-2 weeks, you are falling into this trap. You are essentially differentiating backwards – your best donors are receiving the worst donor service.
The way to avoid this is to get the standard receipt and thank you immediately as you normally would do, then to follow up with your high-touch thank yous. Few will mind if you say “I know you got our standard thank you last week, but I wanted to personally reach out to tell you how much your gift meant to me.” Rather the opposite in most case.
This is imperative because one of the best predictors of whether someone will give again is how quickly and well they are thanked. So, the final rule is:
Timely. Get your receipts out as soon as you can, because of the impact on the next gift. If it’s for a high-dollar donor, consider differentiating even on timeliness, with first-class postage on those thank yous. Take a look at Blackbaud’s mystery shopper experience here. Your donors are used to get receipts in week one (for the above average) or week two (for the just average). You want to be above average to get those additional donations.
Thank you for reading. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about different ways to thank your donors: some that are a bit nonstandard, all of which help express your gratitude.
* It’s statements like that that are the reason I make the big bucks.
2 thoughts on “5 simple rules of thanking donors”
Nick – I was unaware of this blog until today! So happy to read your insights which clearly justify why you make the big bucks!
Thanks! It’s been a fun side project for me.