Donor Thank You Down and Dirty

donor thank you

No doubt you know the donor thank you is important. 

You may not fully grasp how important.

I’m here to tell you ‘thank you’ may be the most important element of your entire fundraising strategy.

Let that sink in.

Gratitude kick starts the process of building relationships and establishes trust. And trust, of course, is the foundation of all lasting relationships.

If you want more than one-time transactions, you absolutely must master the power of thank you.

It’s not difficult. 

Today’s article will provide you with the down and dirty basics. You can riff on the basics once you’ve mastered them.

But first, you must get rid of any negative thinking that’s getting in your way.

Never Underestimate the Power of the Donor Thank You

If any of the following are true for your nonprofit (or even for you personally with regard to expressing gratitude to family, friends and just about anyone with whom you come into contact), you should read this article:

  • People don’t really need a thank you. They’d rather we save the stamp.
  • Too much gratitude makes people feel awkward; that’s not why they gave.
  • I send a thank you when I get around to it.
  • I delegate writing the thank you to the lowest-paid employee or, preferably, an intern.
  • The thank you is written at the last minute, once gifts start arriving.
  • The finance (not development) department sends a formal thank you with the receipt that can be used for tax purposes.
  • One thank you is plenty.
  • If people give online, they don’t also need a mailed thank you.

Maybe it’s because our parents drilled into us the need to say ‘thank you’ when we were kids. And it always felt forced. So now we’re still rebelling against our parents?

Time to grow up.

All of the above are just plain hooey.

It turns out there is plenty of research showing lots and lots of positive outcomes from both the giving and receiving of gratitude.

Practice Makes Perfect

You’re likely out of practice.

In fact, we’re fast becoming a generation where expressing thanks, especially in writing, is becoming a lost art.

When’s the last time you wrote a thank you note to someone?

How do you think it would make you feel if you sent one?

When’s the last time you received one?

How do you think you would feel if you got one?

Thank you always, always feels good.

And I’m going to prove it to you!

Practicing gratitude should be a no-brainer.

Research indicates simple thanks can make the recipient feel happier and more engaged while increasing the emotional intelligence of the person saying (or writing) it. The host of benefits from practicing gratitude include:

  • People who practice gratitude are more sensitive to others.
  • Gratitude leads to reciprocity.
  • Gratitude strengthens and solidifies relationships.
  • Gratitude enhances well-being.
  • Gratitude is a strong motivator.

Surely you can see how all of the above would be useful in enhancing relationships with donors over time! And these are but a few of the benefits of gratitude practice. Truly, the list goes on and on. Check out some of the findings from 26 research studies on gratitude.

If you read just a little of this research, it’s quite eye opening. The science on the many physical, mental, psychological and social benefits of practicing gratitude regularly is convincing. You’ll begin to wonder why we spend so little time on thanking.

SIDE BENEFIT: After you’ve been thanking, thanking, thanking, you’ll feel much more pumped up and capable of making an ask! Really—I’ve seen this happen time and again when I’ve asked reluctant volunteer solicitors to begin with “thank you” calls. They graduate to solicitation calls in no time!

Okay, sold yet?

Practicing gratitude does not belong on the back burner.

Maybe you’re sold on the benefits, sort of, but then your practical (pressed for time) side says: Yeah, that makes sense I guess. But it’s a little bit kumbaya. Sure, it would be nice and all, but… who has the time, really? It can’t make that much of a difference. I’ll do that some day when I work someplace that is more fully staffed and resourced.”

Oh, dear.

Guess what?

You’ll never be more fully staffed and resourced if you don’t begin to fully embrace the power of thank you.

There’s a reason thank you has been an important tool, used for centuries.

The power of thank you is tested by time.

Research on the Power of Thank You + Samples

Historians can trace the origins of written expressions of gratitude back to an ancient Roman trove of letters from around 100 A.D. known as the Vindolanda tablets. Soldiers used to send thanks when angling for positions and promotions. By the 19th century, the thank-you note was de rigueur, for friends, family, and business. A formality of tone and proper etiquette were necessary, as were a careful selection of paper, envelope, and ink.

Why all the fuss?

It turns out “Good writing affects us sympathetically, giving us a higher appreciation both of what is written and of the person who wrote it. Don’t say, I haven’t time to be so particular.”

So said English professor J. Willis Westlake in his 1876 book How to Write Letters. It’s a charming “manual of correspondence, showing the correct structure, composition, punctuation, formalities, and uses of the various kinds of Letters, Notes and Cards.” 

Here’s a sample template for a social thank you.

donor thank you

Imagine this sample as a donor thank you.

donor thank you

Do you think this would be out of place for a donor thank you?

It would not be. Not at all.

In fact, I often advise nonprofits I work with to be gushy. 

That’s right!

Because people understand gushy. Gushy means something. 

Formal thank you’s just come across as, well, formal. Or, shall we say, formulaic.

Here’s the ‘down and dirty’ of what you need to do!  

1. Be Personal

Gushy is personal. 

I’ve written frequently about the research done by Penelope Burk, author of Donor-Centered Fundraising. Consistently Burk’s findings show donors value thank you’s above all else. In fact in one Burk Donor Survey40% of respondents said they had received at least one thank you letter in recent memory they would describe as exceptional. Its warm, personal tone making the letter feel like it was written just for me” was cited most often.

  • 45% of donors said it was an outstanding thank you letter that inspired them to give again.
  • 23% said they gave more generously because of the quality of the acknowledgement they received.

Network for Good surveyed thousands of recent donors to find out what would encourage them to give again. 41% said receiving personalized communication explaining the impact of their continued support would make them much more likely to consider donating again. A similar number said receiving creative and engaging donor communications would make them much more likely to donate again.

2. Be Creative

A similar number said receiving creative and engaging donor communications would make them much more likely to donate again.

Be careful here. Donors like thank you letters and phone calls. They don’t as much like thank you gifts. A lot is about perception. Donors want you to spend their philanthropy on the cause, not on engraved plaques. So give something simple, heartfelt, handmade, inexpensive and thoughtful. You can grab 72 ideas in my Creative Thank You’s. 

3. Be Authentic

Don’t sweat it so much.

Research published in Psychological Science suggests people have a hard time writing a thank you note because it feels awkward to express thanks. So they struggle to find the right words. The researchers found as long as you’re authentic when expressing gratitude, you won’t come off poorly. All you have to do is think about what you’re thankful for.

Additionally, you’ll likely be in more positive spirits once the thank you is sent! 

4. Be Frequent

You can’t just do it once then stop.

Gratitude, to be effective, must be repeated. It must be an ongoing practice, not a one-time thing. According to psychology research, a one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10% increase in happiness and 35% reduction in depressive symptoms, but the effects disappeared within six months and three months, respectively. If you want to continue to feel satisfied in your work with donors (and, as a corollary, if you want your donors to stay uplifted by their philanthropy) you’ve got to practice gratitude as a way of life.

If you don’t, you’ll be like the typical charity and lose close to four-fifths of your annual donors between the first and second donation and up to 45% annually thereafter. Is that acceptable to you?

I certainly hope not!

It’s truly not that difficult to improve your retention and donor upgrade rates.

Simple gratitude is all it takes.

You’ll feel better, and your donors will too.

Gratitude is contagious! Nothing else will keep your donors in as continually a receptive mood.

Why aren’t You Thanking More Thoughtfully?

We’ve reviewed the benefits of gratitude, and know it motivates positive behavior.

That’s your entire job as a fundraiser!

So… why aren’t you doing more of it?

  • It’s a simple thing to do.
  • It takes no special skills.
  • It’s inexpensive.
  • It packs a punch.

Personal. Creative. Authentic. Frequent. That’s it!

Let’s look at some job market research just to hammer home the power of thank you. A recent report from iCIMS revealed 63% of recruiters reported being more likely to hire someone at a higher salary, who sent a thank-you note, than someone who wanted slightly less money but didn’t bother to express gratitude. 

Hmmn…

Might a donor who receives a dynamite, personal, prompt thank you be more inclined to make a larger gift to you than to an organization that doesn’t take the time to express gratitude?

Darn tootin’!

gift acknowledgement program

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.
Claire Axelrad
By |2020-02-28T14:24:49-05:00March 2nd, 2020|Donor Engagement, Gift Acknowledgment|

One Comment

  1. Ruth March 6, 2020 at 10:31 am - Reply

    I like “thank you” the article read it should be done consistently. If you get 1 donation you send 1 thank you.
    You can’t send another thank you for the same donation or can you, referencing the first donation?

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