Effective donor acknowledgement letters are, in many ways, the first step towards donor retention. At the very least, fundraisers should have one strong, personalized thank you letter. Those who really want to make an impression on their donors need four thank you letters in their donor acknowledgement toolkit.
The four letters are:
- New Donors at or below your average gift amount
- New Donors above your average gift amount
- Repeat Donors at or below your average gift amount
- Repeat Donors above your average gift amount
Regardless of what donor management software you use, it should be a snap to filter the gifts into these groups so that each group receives a letter specifically tailored to them. Almost sounds too simple to be effective, doesn’t it?
The Logic Behind the Four Categories of Thank You Letters
You begin by calculating the overall average gift amount for the past year at your organization. In my past experience, the number will be somewhere between $125 to $250 for most organizations. $175 is a safe bet if all else fails.
When you have just four groups of thank you letters you can easily differentiate them by subtle changes in each letter. In addition to changes in the letter itself, such a different P.S. or stating how regular donors are the backbone of your mission, each group can have different additional actions. Those actions range from sending a welcome kit to new donors to personal calls to donors above the average gift amount.
I highly suggest you pull your team together and create a communication strategy with different steps, letter copy and calls-to-action for each quadrant of the chart above. The exercise will be fun and the results will be worth every minute spent.
Please keep in mind to test and retest your copy and calls-to-action in order to verify what is the most effective. A few minor changes here and there will often lead to even better results!
A Brand New Donor is Special and They Should Know It
Obviously, any brand new donor should be treated quite special, with additional contacts in some manner during the first 90 days after their initial gift. Our Chief Scientist Adrian Sargeant boldly proclaims that if there are not additional touch points in the first 90 days of some nature, the chance of retention of the donor slips dramatically.
My suggestion is to make sure the wording of your letter is slightly different for any new donor who comes in at the higher level. At the very least, make the P.S. different. My favorite action in the P. S. is to announce you will be calling to thank them personally.
For first-time, high-level donors, the very best approach for this group is to write a handwritten note. Such notes are so rare that literally every single person considers them special! Most people never throw a handwritten note away! How nice would that be to have your note live on for years with your donor.
Other key points to keep in mind for your new donor letter whether the gift is above or below the average are:
- Let them know even new donors make a huge difference in achieving your mission
- Inform them that a welcome kit will be coming soon
- If they were brought to you by an existing donor, either CC that donor or have another thank you letter come from them
- Ask if they would like to receive your newsletter
- State exactly what their gift will be used for
Repeat Donors are the Backbone of All Fundraising
The key with this group is to make sure they never feel taken for granted. That is precisely why the thank you letter and the other actions surrounding the acknowledgement process are so important.
The thank you letter should shout out how special they are. It should also help them know how much they would be missed if they ever left.
Here are a few more key points for the repeat donor whether the gift is above or below the average:
- Let them know you are well aware of the fact they are now a regular supporter
- Inform them that regular donors provide 80-90% of your funding
- State exactly what the gift will be used for
- Invite them in for a tour or some other personal event
A Little Segmentation and Personalization Goes Far
Now you can have a simple but effective game plan based on just four segments of thank you letters. Just a few subtle changes and a few different actions can make each group feel special. You can also easily avoid sending the exact same letter to a second time donor!
I urge you to review and update the four letters at least once or twice a year. Keeping the thank you letters fresh and well tested will pay many dividends for your fundraising efforts and your donor retention could rise dramatically.