Step one in welcoming: the thank you

I’ve already done a week on thanking your donors.  Somehow, I managed to talk about why to thank people, rules for thanking donors, 50 ways to thank donors, and ways to thank people multichannel-ly.

And I didn’t talk about what should be in a thank you.

It’s a wonder you even read this blog — thank you for that.

One source to which I’m indebted for this week and many others is Roger Craver’s Retention Fundraising. It is a classic about how to retain donors that I can’t recommend highly enough.  He posits that there are seven drivers of retention:

  • Are you effective at your mission?
  • Does the donor know what to expect from interactions with you?
  • Are your thank yous timely?
  • Do you listen?
  • Does the donor feel s/he is a part of something important?
  • Does the donor feel appreciated?
  • Does the donor receive information about who is being helped?

These are the things you are trying to accomplish with your thank you, and with your welcome series.  Most of these apply to any acknowledgment, but they are most important for a first gift.

Remember emotion.  So many acknowledgments aren’t thank you notes.  They sound like they were written by someone trying to tell Sgt. Friday about your donation.

jack_webb_joe_friday_dragnet_1957

At 1430 hours, the suspect made a donation.
It was tax deductible pursuant to 26 US Code 170.

They are long on amount and date and making sure your name right and short on capturing anything related to the donor’s experience in making the gift.  As we’ve discussed, the vast majority of gifts are made not because of what someone thought, but what they felt.  The thank you know should respond to this in kind.

Specify to why.  Along the same lines, the thank you should not just replicate the emotion of the original, but also tie into the story and the reason for giving.  If someone gave with a petition attached, the thank you should reference the petition and how it is helping make a difference.  If they gave you their email address on the reply device, they should be thanked in both medium.  Ideally, the signatory of the thank you should be the same signer of the appeal letter.

Especially with a first gift, it’s important to establish trust.  Relating the thank you to the gift is a good way of establishing that trust.

Remember their past giving.  If they’ve been giving for 10 years, let them know you know that.  While not strictly related to welcome packages, it’s important not to forget this.

Prove the impact.  This also helps build trust.  If you said the donor’s gift would help build a well, the story and pictures, and emotional impact from the thank you should be related to the impact from the well.  Especially if you are not a name-brand charity, the donor is taking a chance on you doing what you say you are going to do with the donation.  Letting them know that you did helps build a relationship and ties them to the impact (not the output) they were hoping to have.

Remember, the donor wants to know who they helped and why that’s important.  Help them.

Differentiate.  A first donation is more predictive than any other donation.  If someone donates an abnormally high amount to your first solicitation of them, they are uniquely dedicated to your cause and/or of substantially greater means than the average donor.  Chances are good that you have a special procedure for anyone who gives over a certain amount (let’s say $1000) to your organization, whether it’s a phone call or handwritten note.  I would advocate you extend this to people whose first gift is abnormally high.  It may seem odd to extend the same treatment to someone who gives $1000 and someone who gives $100, but chances are good that that $100 donor is your $1000 donor of the future.

Do not delay for differentiation.  That said, you hear horror stories of processes for larger donors that delay their thank yous.  You may think I’m exaggerating here, but at the summer camp for future non-profit direct marketers, the counselors would shine a flashlight on their face from under their chin and say things like “And then the letters sat on the executive director’s desk.  And they sat.  And they sat.  And they sat.  For over. Three.  Weeks.”  We campers would not be able to go to sleep, knowing that our best donors were getting the worst treatment.

Perhaps I went to the wrong type of summer camp.

Anyway, there are four solutions to this dilemma:

  1. Light a fire under whoever is supposed to be writing or calling
  2. Pick someone else to do the writing or calling (or have a team of people to share the load)
  3. Use a quasi-high-touch solution like outbound voice mail or pseudo-handwritten cards
  4. Send a regular thank-you note immediately, then follow-up with a phone call or handwritten note

All of these have their merits, but I strongly recommend solution four.  Not only will this thank the donor twice, which is rarely a bad thing, but it will make your process independent of personalities.  I am a big fan of processes that work regardless of the people who are in them.  You may say your ED or board member is extremely punctual with their calls and letters, but this may not always be the case.

Test high-touch pieces below where you currently are doing them.  If you aren’t differentiating at all, well, now’s a great time to start.  If you are, I recommend a test of doing handwritten notes, phone calls, or other high-touch solutions to at least a segment of whatever half of your current threshold value is (so, if you do $1000+, try it with $500+ donors).  Track their giving over the next year and see if it pans out.

My guess is that, if your organization is like almost every other organization I’ve seen, three things are true:

  • Your current threshold was set by someone in the mists of time because it was a good round number that didn’t sound like an overwhelming amount of work for the person/people involved.
  • It has gone through little to no scientific inquiry in the interim.
  • There are touchpoints you can do that will raise the value of the next tier of donors that will justify the amount of work necessary.

There is a who-is-going-to-tie-the-bell-around-the-cat’s-neck problem with this solution.  I would recommend you, the reader of this blog.  Talking to contributors and thanking them for making important work possible is beneath no one.  You will likely not only get a lift in your response rates, but you will also gain vital donor intelligence that few others in your organization will get by having actual conversations with actual donors.

Turn off regular communications with new donors for a certain amount of time.  In the mail, this is easy.  Chances are you have already pulled the list of people you are going to be mailing 30-60 days from now.  Thus, a suppression emerges naturally (although you may wish to lengthen it).  For online initiates, there is a temptation to drop them into regular communications immediately.  

Don’t.

Remember yesterday’s post — you are looking to thank this person, learn about them, have them learn about (and perhaps interact in a non-donor context with) you, and make a strategic ask for a second gift.

If they are dropped into regular communications, there is a near-100% certainty that they will get asked with no learning, which is not strategic.

The amount of time is not really the important part; accomplishing your communications goals is, so you can test what the right amount of time is for you.  And, as Roger told you at the top, be sure to let them know what they can expect from you (and I would add “and allow them to change that default”).

What do you put in the interim?  Well, that’s what I’ll talk about for the rest of the week.

If you would like to get these weeks in digest form, please sign up for my weekly newsletter, where you’ll get not only context for these posts, but also my random neural firings and previews of upcoming posts.  You won’t want to miss it.

Unless you do and that’s fine too — I just appreciate that you are reading.

Step one in welcoming: the thank you

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