Saying thank you shouldn’t be hard.
If you’re comfortable saying “please” – as in “please give” – you need to feel even more at ease with being grateful.
Then why do so many organizations fail at this?
Thanks are the one area where smaller organizations often out-perform their larger cousins.
Think about the gifts you make. What is it you want in return?
To feel good, because you’ve helped to accomplish something.
And to feel acknowledged. Not the form letter. But to be seen, to be noticed as a person who is part of the cause.
Smaller organizations have learned they need to treasure every donor. So they often do the second part well. You are not donor ID 45678. You are a partner. And you matter.
I suspect some large organizations have compartmentalized asking and thanking. I understand wanting to squeeze the most from an organization’s structure.
But I think separating the functions is a mistake.
One department creates a campaign and appeals. Another handles opening mail and data entry. And somewhere in there, a thank you form letter is generated. (Or maybe not at all. It’s the largest organizations I give to that often never acknowledge a gift.)
1. The appeal
In your appeals, you want to persuade donors that they have to power to do something. And that their particular gift is urgently needed.
There are so many factors considered, tested and retested. Personalization. Tom Ahern’s “you” test. Where in the appeal and how often you ask. Exactly how much you ask for. What story you use and which segments of your database will be most moved by it…
The potential details are almost uncountable.
2. Data entry
Then a lower level staffer opens envelopes and handles data entry.
This is the first place all that work up front can go terribly wrong. I’m guessing their responsibility is to get as much information into the system as quickly as possible.
But one hurried mistake, or foolish assumption can undercut a donor’s feeling that they matter to you.
A name is changed. (Don’t “Mrs.” me!) Or a memorial gift is ignored.
These things can annoy donors, or anger them. Either way, they hurt trust.
Then, too often, a joyless, formulaic, barely personalized thank you letter is produced.
If often stars the organization instead of the donor. (“You’ll be glad to know just how hard we work and what heroes our staff are.”)
And it includes nonsense like tax language. (Stick it at the bottom; it’s only there to show the IRS.)
What’s missing is gratitude.
So if my $50 was urgently needed three weeks ago, why is it unimportant now?
We all know donor retention is in the toilet.
So much contributes to bad retention. But making donors feel like they’re just a drop in your amazing bucket is a sure way to spring leaks, to borrow Roger Craver’s metaphor.
Do you want to keep your donors around?
Treat them like they matter as much on the thanking end as on the asking end.
So don’t let “I’m not sure where to start” get in the way. This is a case where sincere wins.
You care about your organization’s mission. So you should feel grateful for every person that decides to hand over some of their money to make it work. That should mean genuine gratitude, whether the gift was $5 or $5,000.
Need a form letter?
You can still be genuine and grateful. But you need to plan.
Just like in an appeal, variable merges can be your friend. But they don’t count if you’re building on a bad letter.
Write with a full heart. Spill it all over the page. No holding back!
Then use those merges to personalize. (Good heavens, no “Dear friend” thank you letters, EVER.)
And use it to thank the donor for exactly what she will make happen. Yes, exactly how much she gave. But remember, she’s trading money for mission. So focus on what she will do with the gift.
You can build whole paragraphs into the basic thank you framework if need be. One for gifts to this campaign or that fund, one for special purpose gifts, tribute gifts, etc.
But it still needs to be touched by a human being.
Because at bottom, fundraising is all about human relations. It’s one, lovely, generous person reaching out to help another.
So add a hand-written note. And have a real person – as high up in the organization as possible – sign it.
Saying thank you really shouldn’t be so hard.
Take a deep breath, think of the people (or animals) your donor will be helping. Then think of how amazing it is that she is reaching out to a stranger to offer that help.
Need more help? You’re in luck: Lisa Sargent has written all about great thanks – and even has a clinic – free on SOFII.
Use your thank you as a way to make your donor feel 10 feet tall.
Because, if you do, she’ll be back.