The Power of a Simple Thank You

While recently moving, my wife and I made numerous trips to our local Goodwill store and donation center.  On one particular trip, I dropped the bags in the large donation bin and one of the store associates asked if I wanted a receipt and I politely told him no.  After this, he thanked me for the donation and for helping support the Goodwill’s work — this was the first and only time during our visits that I was thanked in this manner, or at all.  (I don’t mean this to be a critique of Goodwill’s employees, but more recognition of a job well done in this case.)  This thank you really resonated with me and I wanted to be sure to share this experience with you, my dear readers; it made me feel like I was helping make a real difference.

When did a thank you or acknowledgment from a non-profit really touch you?  Why did it reach you?  Did it spur you to action?  Do you support this organization now?  And how do you adjust your organization’s acknowledgment strategy to touch your donors?


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3 Simple & Impactful Ways to Thank (and Steward) Your Donors

As my fellow Americans are coming off of the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought it would be a good time to share a few ways to be more impactful in how you thank your donors.  To be clear, I see saying thank you as something that is not done only once after a gift is made, as it is really the first step in the ongoing stewardship process.  These three strategies can be deployed by any non-profit organization regardless of its size to thank donors and deepen donor relationships:

  1. Acknowledge every gift
    All non-profit organizations should be sending an acknowledgment letter for every gift that they receive in a very timely manner (some advocate for a 24- or 48-hour turnaround, though I believe it should be done within a few days to avoid falling out of the donor’s memory); these should not simply be the standard form letter, but include some sense of authenticity and a handwritten note from the author.  In addition, it is particularly useful to call or e-mail donors when a gift is received to extend a more personal and immediate thank you; this interaction also provides an opportunity to directly engage the donor in conversation about your work, his/her interests, upcoming events, etc.  During my career in fundraising, I am continually surprised by how few donors get some sort of thank you and how appreciative people are for such a small act.  If your organization does this, you will definitely stand out more to your donors, who will then have another reason to support your mission.
  2. Clearly reiterate key points from solicitation to acknowledgment
    Whether you are at an organization with one annual appeal and one special event or a fundraising shop with multiple appeals and events, it is imperative that you maintain the appropriate message across your communications.  For example, we sent out targeted appeals earlier this year to the alumnae of our Women’s International Leadership Program in commemoration of the program’s 20th anniversary, so I made sure that the celebratory tone was carried through from the acknowledgments, to the thank you e-mails that went out and the gift acknowledgment letters.  By maintaining your message this way, you will not confuse your donors and keep them engaged by invoking what originally inspired them to make a gift.
  3. Connect donors with beneficiaries of your organization’s work
    You should take full advantage of any and all opportunities to bring your donors and the beneficiaries of your work together, whether or not in person, so that they can “see” how their giving is making a difference.  A few examples of this strategy from my work in the last few years have included: inviting a small group residents to I-House’s annual gala (and other special events) to interact with the major donors, honorees and guests to let them see firsthand who benefits from their generosity; regular reports to named room & scholarship donors to provide regular assurance that their gift continues to positively affect our resident community; and the use of a resident-produced video at our 2011 gala to provide a clear perspective of the resident experience, which we have been able to re-purpose for friend-raising and more awareness-building efforts.

As I said earlier, saying thank you should only be the first step in the process of stewarding your donors.  I hope that these three strategies can help you improve your thank yous and overall donor stewardship efforts.  What are some other simple and impactful ways that you have thanked your donors?