Your thank you letter matters.
I recently saw an opinion that I couldn’t disagree with more. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like this:
Donors should be happy with whatever thank you letter they get. Worrying about a real signature or other things is a sign of donor dominance.
I would bet that most donors don’t care much about how they’re thanked. That’s not because it doesn’t matter, but because most donors are kind and generous people who just want to be helpful.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give your thank you program serious thought.
You want to be their charity.
“They’re not your donors. You’re their charity.”~Mark Phillips
Let’s take a small step back and consider how donors think about charities. Suppose you just received a gift from a new donor. You might think, “Oh good, our last appeal really reached them!” But there’s a good chance that your last appeal just appeared in front of them at the right time.
For many donors, there are the “must give” organizations – the ones they feel close to. These organizations are “their” organizations. They see themselves as part of the organization.
Then there are the “this seems like a good idea” or “my friend asked me to give” charities. Or even the “I opened this letter today and I have a bit extra, so why not?” organizations.
There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you want to build a group of donors who stick with you, year after year, your goal is to move into that first category.
You want to be one of their charities.
A good thank you letter – polite and more
You need to stand out to make it onto donors’ first list. And the way you communicate after that first gift is key to standing out.
Saying thanks is not just polite. It’s a great opportunity to set your relationship with your donor on firmer ground. So why waste it?
If what you send looks and feels like a form letter, generated by a machine, it won’t get much more than a quick look. It may be tucked away in a file to be taken out come tax time.
But with just a little heart, you can make it so much more!
Make your thank you letter feel personal
It takes no more time to write a personal thank you letter than a cold corporate one. Do you have canned language you’ve been using for years? Take a little time and write something new.
The easiest way to do this is not to think too hard about it. Picture a donor. Think about what it meant to them to choose your organization. Consider what contributions mean to your mission and work.
Then write what you might say if you were speaking with them.
Just as with appeal letters, big blocks of justified type are intimidating, not welcoming. (There’s a reason most “fine print” is so hard to read – they don’t want you to read it.)
So start with one sentence. Something easy and warm and grateful. Speak directly to the donor. About the donor.
Then let them know what the gift will accomplish. And thank them again.
Yes, you’ll want to mention the gift date and amount. But I’d save the tax language and add it at the very bottom of the page. Easy to see and read, but not part of the thank you itself.
You might want to add a few things. Information about how to reach you if they have questions. Or how their name will appear in print. Or when they can expect to hear from you again.
This information can easily go in a P.S. as well. Just like with your appeal, the thank you P.S. is prime territory.
If you’re feeling uncertain, the first thing I’d do is go to Lisa Sargent’s free thank you clinic at SOFII.
I’m a one person fundraising shop – how do I do this?
I’ve been there! And while I love hand-written thank you notes – and have had my share of hand-cramps – they’re sometimes just not possible. Or not possible for everyone, all the time.
So merge fields are your friend. Get the data right and you’re halfway there. You should have a donor management system that makes it easy to export the information you need.
Choose and use the data you have well. Get names right, for instance. If your data is in bad shape, it’s better to take the time to clean that up than to take time each time you run thank you letters to fix things.
Warm copy plus good data equals effective thank you letters that are easy to run.
My boss never gets around to signing our thank you letters!
I think this might be every boss I’ve worked with. You are not alone!
So beyond nagging, there are two ways you can go.
- Learn to forge a good approximation of the signature.
- Or march into the office with a blank page of paper and a Sharpie.
Get the boss to sign that page – as big as possible. Maybe ask the boss to also write Thank you! Then scan the page and save it as an image. That might be all you need. You can also change its color in Word or try GIMP.
It will look fabulous and save you time and worry.
How you say thank you matters for donor relationships
Remember that this isn’t about donors being demanding. Like every person, your donor wants to feel she matters, personally. When she does feel that way, you’re more likely to become one of her charities.
And that’s where you want to be!