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Jastine Lumbres
by Jastine Lumbres

7 Tips for Saying Thank You to Donors

Showing your gratitude.

Amy Eisenstein in her article “How to Thank Your Donors: Stop Focusing on the Money!” said it best when she made the following point: The thank you is one of the biggest parts of donation stewardship. Unlike for-profits where their relationship with consumers usually end at the thank you message and email following a purchase, nonprofits are expected to go above and beyond such a transaction. For good reason: not only is it polite to say thank you, but nonprofits have a special relationship with those in need and with the people who give them the resources to fulfill their mission: their donors. While that relationship is distinct, that doesn’t mean that your thank you is a given, or that it is silently understood by donors without being said. Remember that behind each check, behind each credit card transaction is a person. We have been taught at a young age that we should always say thank you, that practice perseveres with the following tips that will help your nonprofit do just that.

Approach Thank You differently.

Saying thank you and fostering an atmosphere of gratitude, has to start with your nonprofit, says Marc Koenig of Nonprofit Hub. Your nonprofit has to remember that “it’s not an obligation to give a gift any more – it’s a privilege!” Although the expectation when your nonprofit reaches out is that people would love to help a good cause, that is not always the case. Approaching it with that mindset is not productive for your nonprofit. Instead, Koenig advises that you, “treat each donation as the beginning of a beautiful friendship” where the very first contribution made by a new donor opens the door to a new relationship. With all new relationships, it’s recommended that you take things slow with your new donor and avoid bombarding them with an onslaught of appeals and information. Instead, put them at ease by simply saying thanks. Furthermore, with donors who return after some time away, welcome them back with open arms and say thank you for coming back.

Approach thanking your donors differently, not by their status as either a first-time or long standing donor or by the amount they give; praise them as the kind of people who cared enough to take action and donate.

Get donors to stay.

Make donor retention a central goal in thanking your donors. Nonprofit Hub cites that your nonprofit should expect to lose over 60% of donors after their first donation. What’s even more startling is that 13% of donors out there cite that the reason they stop giving to a nonprofit is because they did not say Thank You. Because nonprofits are built on donations, you cannot afford to miss out on that 13%. A simple thank you can save your nonprofit from these kinds of statistics and open the door to create relationships that have the potential to last, which we cover in greater detail in a separate article on "How To Retain Donors."

Determine the when.

Decide when the initial thank you email and letter will be sent, and decide if they will receive a supplementary thank you following that. The timing for the when varies across the multitude of articles on the subject, standing from 30 minutes to maxing out at 48 hours after receiving and processing a donation. Using this widely agreed upon scale, donors should at the very least receive a thank you email within 30 minutes following their donation. This should be in addition to the thank you page that is meant to accompany the donation form on your website. We believe that your nonprofit should not exceed the maximum 48 hours of this scale, making sure that you have used some form of communication via email or even a phone call to communicate your thanks immediately following the donation. 

Assign the who.

Identify who within your nonprofit will be saying Thank You on behalf of your organization and who will be sending out those messages. Will it be the head of your donations team? A board member? A volunteer? A staff member? Kivi Leroux Miller from GuideStar recommends that you use a mix of these people. Don’t just make your thanks yous so generalized, like the usual letters that come from the desk of the Executive Director or head of donations. Change things up by sending out thank yous from a volunteer or program coordinator. CauseVox echoes this point, adding that your nonprofit should let those who benefit directly from your donations be a part of the thank you. Give them an opportunity to say thanks.

Your nonprofit can also use thanks yous as an opportunity to encourage board member engagement, adds Amy Eisenstein and which we also discussed in “How To Keep Your Nonprofit Board Effective.“ Saying Thank You should be one of the big tasks that board members (and maybe even your Executive Director) take on as part of their participation in planning for and obtaining donations. Board members will then have the chance to connect with donors as well and even take the opportunity to ask them how your nonprofit is doing from their perspective.

After you select who will take part in saying thank you, create a template for the emails and letters they will send out and a script for when they give donors a call (if you are implementing phone calls as part of your thank you communications). Your phone call script should answer the following questions from Amy Eisenstein: Should callers leave messages? Should they leave a return number? What number? The number of the organization or their extension? These are simple questions but their answers are fundamental details in making those calls.    

Figure out the how.

Establish what methods you will you use to thank your donors. Will they receive a handwritten card or note via direct mail? A personalized email? Will you thank them on your website as well or on social media? Will you send them a gift as well with your thanks? Each method of thanks will come with its own procedures and will also be dependent on how you receive your donations as well. In the case of direct mail donations, for example, it is good practice to give donors a call when you receive their check and have processed it. This will reassure your donor that their donation was received and it’s your opportunity to say thank you.

Your nonprofit can also consider tiered thank yous, says Chelsea Alves in her article “15 Ways to Thank Donors.” Just as there is tier giving for donations, there could also be tiered thank yous for your nonprofit. Your nonprofit should establish tiers of thanks yous in order to segment communications accordingly for those donors who give more or give consistently.

No matter what method you choose to thank your donors, the same rules of transparency apply. Maintain transparency by breaking down donations for your donors and showing them how they are being use through testimonials or cards with statistics or facts. The thank you method you choose will be contingent on your organization’s personality and resources, but many options are available, which we explore in more detail in our list of "Classic and Contemporary Ways To Thank Your Donors."  

Make those edits.

When putting together your thank you materials, use spell-check. We mean this quite literally; grammatical errors (especially if they persist in every Thank You letter or email your send out), look messy and translate into a lack of professionalism. In addition, says Koenig, make sure you don’t forget the little things, like spelling your donor’s name right. Making the simple mistake of misspelling your donor’s name can rub them the wrong way and make them feel like they are just one of the many Thank You messages they send out, that they are not treated individually but rather in bulk.

That being said, be conscious of the language you use from channel to channel and from donor group to donor group. Saying thank you through social media will be different from sending out a thank you letter, for instance. Social media is typically used to publicly shout out specific donors who have contributed recently whereas a thank you letter has a more personal, one on one vibe to it. In terms of donor groups, the language you use for a first-time donor should be different from that you use for monthly donors, or the language used to thank board members should be different from how you thank volunteers, to give you a few ideas.

Tone is extremely instrumental here as well. Be mindful of the tone you use when you say thank you; it should not mirror your appeals or other fundraising and donation materials. CauseVox recommends that you write them like you would write to an old friend or good acquaintance. Make your tone light and appreciative. This will all help to ensure that your donors aren’t going to get some generic version of a Thank You letter or email, that it will reflect donors and their contribution.

Follow up.

When the time comes to update your donors, how will you show them the impact they have made? Through photographs sent through direct mail or email? Through a newsletter detailing that impact? Keep your donors informed. No matter how small the development or accomplishment, you should keep them updated on what their donations have done for the mission, whether through testimonials, statistics, images, or whatever way your nonprofit sees fit.

During these updates, whether they are done in person at an event, over the phone, or through other means, be sure to leave the door open for conversation with your donors should they have any comments to make or some concerns that need to be addressed. Make sure that your nonprofit is able to handle complaints well and within a day. If you can’t resolve it in a day, ensure that you keep your donor informed and let them know that you are working on it. Donors will feel that you take their concerns seriously and will appreciate your nonprofit more for that customer service.

Continuing with customer service in the thank you context, resist the urge to capitalize on the moment by injecting an appeal into your thank you. Avoid what is called the “me, me, me” trap. Koenig suggests that you “Count the times you use the word ‘we’ and make sure the number of times you use ‘you’ is far greater.” Your Thank You is not the place where you talk about your nonprofit. The purpose of the Thank You letter is to both thank the donor and establish good rapport with them. If you are able to do this well, making that ask a month or two down the line will be easier and their enthusiasm will encourage them to give more.

Let your thank you be what it is, a demonstration of how grateful you are to each individual donor.  

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Jastine Lumbres

Jastine Lumbres
Jastine is Elevate Click's first content writer. She received her BA in English from UC Riverside and Master's in English degree from Claremont Graduate University. She currently lives in Rosemead, CA with her family.

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