You want to create long-lasting relationships with your supporters in order to sustain your nonprofit. Acquisition is simply a foot in the door. Retention is the name of the game. And what do donors want most?

A heartfelt thank you!

Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE recently joined us for a webinar in which she shared how to truly delight your constituents and generate more support.

In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Claire, my watch just struck 1:30 Eastern. Do you want to go ahead and get started?

Claire: Sure.

Steven: All right let’s do it. Good afternoon everyone. If you’re on the East Coast, good morning, if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between, thanks for being here for today’s webinar — Creative Thank Yous: Boost Donations with an Attitude of Gratitude. My name is Steven Shattuck. I’m the VP in Marketing here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.

Before we get started, just a couple of house keeping items, I just want to let everyone know that I am recording this presentation and I will be sending out the recording as well as the slides of this presentation a little later on this afternoon after we conclude. Look for an email from me a little later on today. You’ll be able to review the resources and maybe share the recording with someone else in your office or just watch it again yourself.

I would encourage you all to send in some questions and comment using the chat box up there on your screen. I’ll see those and our guests will see those and we’re going to try to save some time for questions, but this is a little bit of a longer presentation so we may not have quite as much time as we normally do. But that’s okay because our guest has graciously agreed to answer questions offline and we’ll definitely get you for contact and so you’ll be able to do that. But don’t be shy about sending questions our way. We’ll be able to see those throughout the broadcast and we’d love to make this a little bit more interactive.

Just in case this is your first webinar with us, welcome. If this is maybe not your first webinar with us, welcome back. For sure you may notice that we’re on some new software here. This is actually our first go round with ReadyTalk, so I hope you’ll forgive any stumbles along the way. I don’t think we’ll have any but just so you’re aware, that’s what going on here.

In addition to offering webinars every week, Bloomerang also offers really awesome donor database software. So if you’re interested in that, you can check out our website. You can learn more about our product. Won’t say much more about it during this presentation but that’s available for you if you’re in the market for that, so we’d love for you to check that out.

I want to go ahead and introduce our guest. She is Claire Axelrad J.D., CFRE. Hey, Claire, how is it going?

Claire: Okay. Hello everybody.

Steven: Hello. Thanks for being here. I think some of you may remember Claire was our guest in January of 2014 and she did such an awesome job that we had to have her back. Claire is just an awesome person. If you’re not following her online, you definitely need to be. She was named Outstanding Fundraiser Professional of the year by AFP. She brings over 30 years of frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of Clarification. That’s her consultancy, definitely something you should check out. She’s a frequent writer, webinar presenter, speaker, she’s written for 4GOOD, Fundraising Success Magazine, Non-profit Hub,, npENGAGE.

She’s just a good friend of ours at Bloomerang. She’s super smart. Definitely someone you should follow online if you’re not already doing it. Claire, I’m not going to take any more time away from you. I’m going to let you take over and share all your good stuff with us, so take it away my friend.

Claire: Okay, thank you. Thanks for all those nice comments. Well, chances are that when you’re asked to bring in more money, you start thinking about finding new donors. But what about thinking more about getting more money from the donors you already have?

For non-profits, donor retention is where what I call “the easy money” is and if you think about it, it makes sense. Your current donors are the folks who have already demonstrated that they care about your cause and they’re philanthropic. It’s much easier to get a second gift from these folks than it is to find the relative stranger and get a new gift from them.

In fact, the research shows us that if you can keep just 10% more of your donors today, this will enhance the lifetime value of your donor base by 200%. That’s 300 times the money that you’re getting from the same donors today. So if anyone who’s arguing with you that you can’t put more resources into donor retention and into your thank you program, ask them where else are you getting this kind of return on new investment.

It turns out that with donor retention, the killer app is a thank you strategy. Nothing really satisfies your donors more than a thoughtful thank you. Unless your donors are satisfied, they won’t stick around. Today we’re going to talk a bit about your gratitude culture, and a lot about your donor acknowledgement program.

First, let’s look at why you’re going to commit to this. Non-profits today are losing an average of 72.7% of donors after the first gift. That means you’re only keeping one out of four donors and when it comes to people who give twice, you’re only keeping a bit more than half, 58.4%. Overall, of all your donors, you’re keeping 43%, 4 out of 10. This compares with commercial businesses who retain 94%, more than 9 out 10, of their first time customers.

If you think, “Well, that’s just the way it is in non-profit. We just live with it,” you’re dead wrong. A lot of the work that’s been done by the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and Urban Institute and Dr. Adrian Sergeant shows us that you really can make a difference in donor retention. I just want to say again, this is what these numbers mean. If you brought in 1,000 new donors last year, you were probably patting yourself on the back and saying, “Wow, we got 1,000 new donors.” But this year this year, that’s going to shrink to 270 donors and next year to 156, and after seven years, you only going to have 10 people left.

What can you do to make sure that your bucket stays filled up? A lot, and gratitude is your secret weapon, and if it’s done right, it’s kind of magical. But I’m talking real gratitude, not the fake, “I just found a letter and I checked it off my kind of stuff,” but thoughtful stuff that you spend a bit of time on, just like you do with a family member or close friend, anyone with whom you have a relationship and you want to keep and continue to build that relationship. I don’t know about you but, sadly, my personal friendships, too often die on the vine because I don’t keep up with them enough. I don’t prioritize them enough.

If you want to keep your donors loyal to you, you’ve got to keep up with them and thank you is your best tool. Today we’re going to cover some stuff I want you to stop doing and some stuff I want you to start, such as stop sending the same generic thank you to everyone, checking it off your list as done. Stop sending just a transactional receipt. This is unlikely to make anyone feel good. Stop with the thank you that sounds like another fundraising letter, that filled with statistics and the numbers that you’ve helped and how great you are, and how big the need is. That implies that their puny little gift really didn’t do much and they need to send another one.

Start showing your donors what they did, how awesome they are, make them the hero. Thank from their perspective. Start thinking of thank you as your set up strategy, your opportunity to get the next gift and start to help your donors feel that they’re joining a community, a family of like-minded people who share their value, and start to develop written policy and procedures to ensure that your thank you plan happens.

Finally, start to institute an on-going institution-wide gratitude culture that keeps your donor happy all year. You want to start to thank multiple times with creative strategies that wow your donor because you want thoughtful and passionate gifts, so you want to mirror this by being thoughtful and passionate in a thank you strategy.

Before we get to the creative stuff, I want to be sure that you’re covering the essential basics. Who, what, when, where, why and how of thanking donors can make or break your entire fundraising program. You don’t want to sleepwalk through what’s really your most important job. The importance of a well-oiled, passionate donor acknowledgement program really can’t be underestimated. Sadly, it is, all the time.

If you’re not doing all the things that a good thank you program includes, you’re not going to fill your bucket all the way up. Ask yourself now, “Do we have donor thank you policies and procedures so everyone knows the rules? Do we draft acknowledgement letters at the same time we draft campaign appeals so they match and they reinforce why the donor gave and that their gift will be used as they intended?”

“Do we make thanking donors an after thought, something that we delegate to the lowest level employee? Do we wait until the gifts start to arrive and then someone suddenly remembers, ‘Oh, no we better write a thank you letter’? Do we send the same generic thank you letter year round or even year after year regardless of the specifics of the appeal or the level of the gift or the longevity of the donor or how the donor may be specifically involved with us?”

One of my pet peeves is sending the same thank you letter to a board member as you send to everyone else. It sounds like they don’t know much about the organization. Think from your donors’ perspective, what would delight them.

Here are what I call the three essential P’s of thanking. In Penelope Burk’s research in Donor-Centered Fundraising, there are three things that donors most want from you, and they all have to do with thanking them. It’s not having your name in lights, it’s not getting an engraved plate, it’s not getting a newsletter. It’s simply a thank you letter that’s prompt, personal and tells them something about the impact of their gift, what they’d like to hear from you at least from you without an ask, before you ask for another gift.

It’s just like when grandma sends you a gift. You want to thank her really personally. You want to say, “Thank you for the blue sweater. It’s my favorite color, as you know. Here’s the picture of me wearing it,” so she can really see the impact of the gift. If you do this, you’re going not only get more nice gifts from Grandma, you’re keep more donors and raise more money.

The fundamentals, before you start, you’ve got to learn those. There are a few basics that are super important that too few non-profits get right. You want to write these essential down into your policies and procedures documents that you share with all staff and even volunteers as appropriate. You want to include this 48-hour turn around.

I know that you’re going to argue with me that this is like not important, but it is. Donor etiquette isn’t wedding etiquette. You don’t have a year to get your thank you out. Donors care about this. They want to know that you got the gift. If you’re really slow, it makes you appear inefficient. Is this how you run the rest of your business?

Plus, promptness isn’t just good manners. The most important predictor of likelihood to give again is recency. So if it takes you a month to process a gift, then you’re missing out on your donors most likely to give again period.

I want to tell you a little story. When I was working at the Social Service Agency, we had a couple of donors who got re-married. They had both lost their spouses, so they both had plenty of stuff. They asked that donation be made in their honor and the husband chose our charity and the wife chose two other charities.

When we got payment, we got out our thank you’s out within 48 hours and we sent to the donor and we sent to the couple. Apparently the other two charities were not as good. It was taking them three to six weeks to get their thank you’s out. He was really impressed and he called me out just to tell me how much he appreciated it. I got to talking with him and I invited him for coffee. Long story short, he ended up joining our board, becoming the head of development, and becoming a super major donor all because of the thank you process.

When you craft your thank you’s, you want to do it as the time as the appeal, but if you don’t do that, your job is only half done. You want to align your response to their giving motivation and you want to send different letters to reinforce what might be most important to the donor.

It could be the fact that they’re a first time donor. It could be that they’ve given an increased gift and they want you to notice that. It could be that it’s in honor or memory of someone or that they want to remain anonymous. Put this in the letter. Your goal is to let your donor know that you know who they are, you’ve paid attention to any special instruction and you appreciate the gift for the purpose it was given. Then you’re going to want to send a welcome package for new donors which we’ll talk about in a second.

Your standard operating procedure should include as many ways to personalize your thank you’s. Some of the ways to do this are, you can establish a volunteer thank you committee that’s willing to add personal notes to donors and collect these up and then insert them. They can be in particular categories like people who are direct service volunteers, people who are alumni, parents, people who came to a special event. What you don’t want to do is hold them for the volunteers to come in and add the notes.

Okay. Let’s talk about the donor-centered thank you letter. You want to make your donor feel good. You know there’s a number one reason people don’t give is they aren’t asked. The number one reason that they don’t give again, you didn’t make nice to them. You don’t want a boring, prosaic opening like, “On behalf of the board blah, blah.” You want something catchy and you remembered because they couldn’t. “Thanks for responding to our request for the dementia center.” This is like a very warm, kind of interesting, noticeable opening.

Then you kind of tell a little story that emotionally illustrates how their gift will be used. “Mary will be safe from now on because she’ll have help at home.” It’s a little story and you tell them that they are your hero and you invite their involvement in ways other than giving you money, like invite them to tours, events, volunteer opportunities, feedback to a little survey. One person signs the letter. You want to keep it authentic and nobody believes that multiple people sat down and wrote a letter together. It’s great to have different people add notes, but one signer.

Include a P.S. It’s your most valuable piece of real estate. Ninety percent of people read the P.S. first, so you want to put something new there or something really important. Not tax information but maybe like, “Here’s your personal contact at our organization should you ever need any assistance.” Make them feel special and then some thoughtful inserts that will make the donors feel good. We’ll talk about that more but I want to keep them as virtual as possible so that I don’t waste a lot of trees because people don’t like that.

Testimonials are really good. They’re social proof coming from somebody else saying how helpful your organization is. They can be from donors, they can be from clients.

By the way, you want to just as donor-centered with your email thank you’s. Here is one that was sent to my colleague Pamela Grow, and by the way, we’re doing a course together in May on the power of thank you. If you subscribe to my blog, you won’t miss the announcement and you can sign up for that. Also, if you do that, you’re going to get a couple of free resources that will also help you, so you want to do that.

This, you can see, is very warm and friendly even in really small space. It lets them know that they did something amazing, you can see the impact, and it’s all about you and how much you count. You don’t want to have a two tier thank you system for people who send online. You additionally want to send them a snail mail thank you. Just because they give online doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same kind of treatment you give everybody else.

You want to not use this as an excuse to not send snail mail. You want to consider it another channel in your multi-channel stewardship strategy. You want to always be looking for opportunities to say thank you. You never know online whether folks even click and open your email, because they’re inundated. Especially for first time donors, it’s an opportunity to say, “We’ll be sending you your welcome package within the next three weeks.” You never want to go longer than that. Then you followthrough and they begin to trust you and you can quickly stuff in that package that might really delight them.

Let’s look at this welcome packet. Here you see two really different scenarios. One is a packet of muffins and the other is a boring box. Pretend you moved to a new neighborhood and a new community and you get this big box of stuff delivered to your door via UPS and you sign for the package and you open it up. On top is a generic, “Welcome to our neighborhood” letter that describes how great everything is. You learn about the award-winning local hospital, the schools, the community center and the wonderful local merchants and you’re encouraged to patronize each and every one of them. In other words it’s all about them.

Or a person knocked on your door with the same basket of muffins from the local bakery. She says she brought an assortment because she doesn’t know your preferences yet but she’s looking forward to getting to know you. They invite you to a new residence get together happening next week. She makes it easy for you, offers you a ride if you need one, and gives you her contact information in case you have any questions in the future.

This is about you. You want your welcome package to be the equivalent of a person hand delivering muffins. Personal, warm, inviting, special, a nice surprise, not looking expensive — and we’re going to talk about token gifts later — but something that makes your donor feel really good about their new situation as a member of your organization’s family. Not just a bunch of glossy brochures, a membership card they’ve got no use for, a bumper sticker for a car they don’t own and whatever else you throw in. You don’t want to give them too much because they’ll get annoyed that you spent money on them. By the way, it doesn’t matter if you got it all underwritten. The perception is that you did spend money, so keep it simple.

All right. Enough basics. We’ll look at one last reason you have to rock your donor acknowledgement — because boring thank you’s don’t do it. A study conducted by CharityDynamics and NTEN says that 21% of donors say they were never thanked for their gift. My hunch is, because many of them got something that they just didn’t even note it. It might have come by email and they didn’t open it. It might have just been like a receipt or might have thought it was another fundraising letter. When you send something perfunctory and non-personal, you don’t leave an impression.

Let’s look at 10 ways of leaving an impression. Getting creative means getting smart also. Its’ the difference between let’s get this over with and let’s get something started. When you walk to a fast food restaurant, the stated measure delivered on goal is to get the transaction over with as cheaply and quickly as possible. On the other hand, when you’re a first time client at a bank or a resort, everyone on the staff is focused on getting something started, not over with. They want a relationship that might last for many stays or new investments in their bank or gifts, so it’s worth putting some energy into.

If you can thank more than once, it’s really magical. When I began fundraising, I was really fortunate to have who I call the “daddy of fundraising”, Hank Rosso who started The Fund Raising School, told me that you need to thank donors six times. I find that when I share this with people, they think I’m nuts. But that’s because there’s construing this advice a bit too concretely. I don’t mean for you just to send six identical thank you’s letters. I do need for you to repeat your gratitude and to send as personal as possible communication every month or so to remind your donor how important they are to you.

We’re going to go through these one at a time. The first one is the donor-centered hand written thank you. This qualifies as creative in 2015 because hardly anyone hand writes letters anymore and if you do, it makes you the exception.

Here is one that was sent to my friend Pam from a legal justice organization and it says, “We are so honored to have you as a partner in our fight. We look forward to keeping you informed and we’re going to send you an acknowledgement for everything in 2014.” It’s very warm. It gives some important information and it gives you an opportunity to let them know if you’d like to receive communications in a different way.

If you can’t do a hand written note with everyone, but you probably can, you can take a group like donors over $500, donors over $1,000 over $25,000 — and make sure you write this down in your policies and procedures. At least add a hand written personal note to your computer generated letter. As I noted, you can have volunteers write these in advance or you can just make it part of whoever signs the letters. Maybe it’s an admin assistant who signs the person’s name. At the same time they’re signing the name, they could say, “Your support means a lot.” When the donor opens the letter and sees the handwriting, it makes an impact.

The donor-centered thank you call. You can see from Penelope Burk’s research that a large percentage of donors say the call will influence them to give again and to increase their gift. In fact, she tested this and had board members call within 48 hours and it resulted in 42% larger gift from the donors who were called and a 39% more renewed their gifts when they were called. These are a remarkably high percentages and you can always test it for yourself.

We don’t have a lot of time today so I’m going to leave you to download my free ebook from my site to get the who, what, when, and how of this process. I do want to say, though, that the call is not a substitute for your official written thank you that they get in 2in 48 hours, it’s a plus. I would always call in my classes, the major donors, $1,000+ donors for me right away and that is within my policies and procedures. Other people would be getting a call within a month. I feel that later than that, they start to think that it’s another solicitation.

Of course you can also make random calls of kindness and we’ll talk a bit about this later too. If you’re going to call, my advice is don’t waste it. You took the time to do it, so leave a message. But it’s a lovely, pure thank you message. You can always have a test going on to see what’s worth your while.

Here is one example from the International Rescue Committee, and they tested calls to donors that gave $100-149, dividing them into three groups. The control group got no call. The second group was thanked by a staff member, and the third group was called by a refugee with whom they had worked to resettle. They found the calls made within six weeks of the donation had the greatest impact and that those who were called by refugees, increased their giving by 16%, by staff, 5%. So think about what you could test.

Third way is a thank-a-thon. It’s a fun group endeavor. You have refreshments. It’s best if you have a quick training and a role play first, and you’re doing this, again, within a month of the gift and then you enter into your database so that you can track whether the folks that got called renew at a higher level. It’s a pure thank you. The donors feel really amazed and you stand out. If they happen to be chatty, you also get to learn something more about them. Again, they’re not home, leave a message. It still creates the same feel good effect.

Here you can see Operation Smile decorated their thank you to make it festive, and if you want to learn more about how a thank-a-thon is run, you can read about their on SOFII, which if you don’t know about this website, it’s got a lot of creative examples through history of different fundraising strategies that were very effective.

The thank-a-thon does a number of things. It’s a great way to involve your volunteers because it’s inevitably a feel good experience for them. Once I’ve had somebody do this, they ask me for phone calls, they like to do it. For volunteers, it’s been a way to get on the phone and talk to donors and ask them for a gift, this is a way to get their feet wet and start to see that, “Oh, donors are just people.” You could also consider using it as a staff team building or an inner departmental bonding experience that also helps with elimination of silos and the creating of a shift towards a gratitude culture, which I’m going to get to more towards the end.

Let’s talk a little bit about why it’s so important. You want different people to thank your donors throughout the year and psychological research on gratitude done by Solomon and Steam if you want to look it up, indicate that to produce lasting effects, gratitude must be repeated. They tested a one time thoughtful act of gratitude. It was a hand delivered thank you letter and they found that it produced an immediate 10% increase in happiness but the effect was cut by 50% in a week and they disappeared within six months.

If you want your donors to stay uplifted by their philanthropy so that they’re primed the next time you ask them, you’ve got to practice gratitude continually as a way of life. It takes a village. Being customer service or donor service oriented, should be part of your new employee orientation, your employee handbook, your job description, your evaluation. We’ll talk a little bit more about getting this engrained in your culture later.

For now, just sometimes change who the thank you is from. It doesn’t always to come from the ED or the board president. You can send it from someone who was helped. It could even be a guide dog or a talking tree. Or send it from a program director or from the first cello or the ballerina or even a painting. Some of these are clever. Some of these are authentic and heartfelt, and either way, they are attention grabbing. So you can also have this be as part of the official thank you but you can also have it be a second or third additional thank you that the person receives.

All right, greeting cards and e-greetings. You can really delight your donors with a simple card. You can send it by any channel, depending on what you know about your donors preferences. Email and social media are less costly, kill fewer trees, but a card that’s received in the mail is still the most personal and gives you an opportunity to add a little note or enclose a little token. Plus, you’re pretty sure your donor will open it. It may sometimes be worth sending cards to a selective list, rather than a broadcast e-greeting that will have less impact.

Here’s the way to send them. Holidays, we’ll talk about that in a minute. Personal celebration day. You want to keep, if you know your donor’s birthday or special anniversary, put that in your database, have a reminder in the system so that you can send a greeting. Consider sending cards that showcase your donor’s mission, that have maybe cute pets placed on them or smiling kids or some awesome art and then include this handwritten personal note and maybe a token gift.

Off the cards for a second, is this a special occasion? You could also just pick up the phone and call someone to wish them a happy birthday. I’ve got an answering machine where I’ve sung “Happy Birthday” to the donor on, and it’s just really a friendly, human personal touch. Other ways and other times you can send the card is dates that reflect your donor’s relationship with you. Maybe they’ve been giving for five or ten years consecutively. I used to send donors who set up a charitable gift annuity a card on the anniversary of their gift annuity. That prompted actually a lot of repeat gifts.

Then my favorite, which we’ll get to in a bit, is that you make the holiday up. Let’s talk about the holiday greetings first. You can pick just about any holiday, as long as you’re thoughtful and creative with your message. Now, a lot of people send Christmas or Hanukah or Kwanza cards, but everyone does that, so I prefer to choose a lesser expected or even a little known holiday because it gets noted and it can be a special delight.

These are cards that my friend and my colleague Shannon Dolittle sent to her donors one year. It’s unexpected because Halloween is not traditional holiday for sending cards, so it’s delightful and it’s fun and it’s clever. You can buy these cards or you can print cards or you can make your own or ask your clients to make them.

You want to tie your message some way to your mission. For example, I worked for many years for a Jewish social services organization and Shavuot is a Jewish harvest festival that celebrates giving of the first fruit. Since giving away a first fruit is a gift of love, we sent a card thanking supporters for giving the first fruit of their time, their energy and their love. People loved it because you don’t get Shavuot cards.

While I prefer the unexpected holidays, there’s still some really good holidays that you can send. Valentine’s is a great one because it’s about love. It could be a fun volunteer project or a client project just to make them old-fashioned cut out paper valentine and pass them into a great red envelope with a simple message like, “We heart you.”

Mother’s Day is great. Your donor isn’t your mom, but that doesn’t have to matter. You can thank them for something mom-like that they did for you, for nurturing your project to fruition. You can also get creative with who the card is from. These are some animal paintings that were done by the Smithsonian National Zoo.

So remember, you can send these cards through snail mail or email so some e-holiday greetings here, here’s one that was done by the Monterey Bay Aquarium posted on Facebook. “I’m utterly in love with you. Happy Valentine’s Day.” Here is one that was sent by the Nonprofit Center as a tweet, which could easily be adapted as a Valentine message.

Again, you can make your own visual, I actually have a lot of resources on how to create your own online images fairy easy on, like, Pinterest boards, which you can go to, Google “Clairification Pinterest”, you’ll get to my Pinterest board and this one is trend visual. You can also always just grab an e-greeting from some of the free online card services like 123Greetings or American Greetings or BlueMountain and just email these to selective donors on their special occasion. It just shows them that you’re thinking of them and I found that donors love these. In fact, I had one board member who I sent a birthday card to and she actually paid for a subscription for a paid service for me and sent that to me and said, “I want you to be able to send these to more people and be able to send more creative ones.”

Okay, you can do the holiday greeting via video and a link to your Twitter or whatever it is that you’re sending. It could be in a blog or an email as well. Here is one from the Wounded Warrior Project that was a one and a half minute holiday video that had clients, wounded warriors and their family members saying thank you and wishing folks a happy holiday. We don’t have time for me to show you all of these videos today but I’m trying to give you a sense of it here and, again, you can go to my Pinterest board, Gratitude-Nonprofits Say Thanks and you can find a whole bunch of videos that you can actually click on.

Remember I told you my favorite time to send somebody is when you make something up. Let me show you an example of that. “Happy July 26th. Did you know that on this date in 1952 Mickey Mantle hit his first grand slam? You hit one too this past year when you joined our legacy society. We hope you’ll wear your mantel proudly.” So you know you can get those calendars that have every day of the year is some sort of weird holiday and then tie it back to your mission and to how your donor helped you. If you get my “Creative Thank You’s Guide” or my “How to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude Guide”, they both have a calendar in there and more suggestions like these, plus some exercises to help you to brainstorm.

Let’s go to the next way you can thank you people with your postcard. Sometimes sending a letter or a newsletter or even a card seems like too much. You just want to send a quick little postcard that says, “Thinking of you. Wish you were here.” Here is one to a donor who helped to make some client outing possible. “Your gift gave the class such a wonderful time. Wish you were here.”

Here is one that was done as an annual report postcard and I think it was for a literacy organization in Bangor. It has a big thank you on the postcard and it lets them showcase the progress that people make as a result of donor generosity.

You can actually just send a postcard yourself when you’re traveling around. I used to do this sometimes when I’d be on vacation and I’d say something that I knew would delight a donor. It might be a church or a painting or a ruin or even a nonprofit that was doing similar work to what our nonprofit did, just in different place.

You can make postcards. There are some cool tools that let you make personalized postcards at very reasonable rates, simple postcards — Vistaprint and Shutterfly. One nonprofit that I work with, uses Shutterfly’s coupons and codes to grab 10 free postcards at a time that they’re able to put their own client photos on and then they save them all up and they send a bunch out for a particular occasion. I got one from them this year for Valentine’s Day.

Okay, let’s go on now to the really fun stuff — sending thank you gifts. If you want to get a gift, it’s nice to also give them, but not expensive. Things that you just don’t really have to do, token. I like to bake so I often would bring folks some homemade cookies and those are actually my cookies. I wouldn’t just wanted to bring them on scheduled donor visits. One year I brought on Purim — this is a holiday where you sometimes you bring a little gift, little treat to people — I baked little Hamantaschen cookies and left them on my plan giving donors’ doorstep and I rang the doorbell and I left, and it was just a surprise, and people loved this.

One of my clients this year this injustice organization, borrowed this idea and they found a bunch of Ghirardelli chocolate bars on super sale, got them, tied them up with a bow and delivered them to the law firms that they work with with a little message like, “Just thinking of how much sweeter you make life for the people we work with together. Sweets for the sweet.” I know someone else who doesn’t make cookies but she makes jam, so she dropped that off for donors. The goal is not to spend a lot of money, but to show someone that they are in your thoughts.

If you work for an organization that operates a café or has performances or offers tours, you can include coupons with your note and your greeting card. One of my colleagues sends a stick gum. It doesn’t take much space and she writes, “Thanks for sticking with us.” I often would enclose stickers for the same reason, and especially if they had kids. But sometimes I would just send my donors a little gold star.

Okay, let’s see some other thank you gift ideas that I’ve found around the web. “Thanks for giving a hoot about our cause,” came with little Rolo candy. “Thanks a latte for all you do.” You can get a local café to donate some gift certificates. “We need s’more supporters like you.” It was a little s’more package that they made. “You are o‘fish’ally the best,” which was just a little package of Swedish fish candy.

Again, if you go to my Pinterest board, Gratitude-Nonprofits Say Thanks, you’ll find a lot more examples and my ebook on creative thank you’s has a lot of examples and tips for you.

Snapshot. This is a kind of a variation on the token gift. You can take a snapshot of your donors when they’re at an event or volunteering for you and then send it to them with a note that says, “Looks like you had a great time. It looks like you were really being helpful. Was so glad that you could join us.” You can also take snapshots that show the outcome of your work. This is an organization that provides jobs and job training so you can say, “Your support helped all these people develop new job skills this year. You’re our hero.” You just want to make sure that they don’t look slick but they’re just like snapshots and the trick here is just to keep it real authentic.

Video thank you’s. Videos are becoming a real trend, yet because people are so busy, they don’t have time to read a lot. It’s very inexpensive now to create a sharable video. Anyone with a smart phone can make one so why not get a bit creative and share some thank you footage with your supporter. This is one of the last that was done by charity: water but this has a lot of people holding up cards — this was a Valentine’s one — and they’re saying thank you.

The one on the right was by OneJustice and they took buses of attorneys, pro bono, out into rural areas where people don’t have access to legal help. They are making little videos when they’re out on the bus trips and having the clients and the staff and their pro bono attorneys hold up these signs and they can upload them to Vimeo or Youtube and send them with a link either through an email, a blog post, or on social media.

Let’s look at a few more video examples. Here is one in the upper left that was sent by a small non-profit, and I want you to know that whatever size your nonprofit is, you can do this. This was from kids who were helped by the Boys & Girls Club of Foster Elementary School. All of these, you can find on my Pinterest board and actually play the video.

The next one is a holiday thank you from a client. The clients happened to be animals who were helped by ASPCA donors.

Then on the lower left is a year-end thank you and video from a large nonprofit, Save the Children. Then the one on the right roller is from the Nature Conservancy and it’s a thank you from the scientists who work there. You can get really creative also as to who the video comes from. It can be the people that you’ve helped, the animals that you’ve helped, your organization as a whole or the staff who work there.

All right, let’s talk about public recognition. Praise grows when it’s done in a group setting. The next time that you’re together with an awesome donor, and a group of other people, like other board members, other donors, your ED, take the opportunity to let everyone in the group know how awesome your donor is. Say something like, “George is the one who really made this program come to fruition.” It really makes people feel good.

You can also publicly recognize donors by writing a story about them in your newsletter or a blog post, and you can also of course honor them publicly at your event or just on a donor honor role, or you can endorse them, other than public by endorsing them, you can do it in a group email or you can do it on something like the LinkedIn, or you can just follow them on social media and give a shout out to them on Twitter or Facebook or Google+ or Pinterest. It’s just a nice way to show them that you’re paying attention to them. Of course it’s not a place to disclose confidential information or a gift amount. Pinning photos, if you Pinterest, you can have a Pinterest board or several of them that has your star supporters or your extra mile donors, or if you’re doing crowd fundraising.

The goal is to make giving to you a transforming experience for your donor. Something is required on your part if you want transformation to occur. The first gift is just a baby step towards joining your community, your family. It’s nothing more, it’s nothing less. But you either nurture your baby or you see it fail to thrive. It’s the beginning of your donor’s life with your organization, not the end. Their life with you is not just in the development requirement.

This is why I encourage you to shift your organization’s thinking and the culture of your organization in the direction of gratitude rather than greed towards your donor. You can call this a donor-centered culture, a customer service culture, a culture of philanthropy or a gratitude culture, whatever you call it. What’s important is making that philosophical shift. It forces you to think very specifically about what you’re grateful for. You aren’t thanking your donors for money; you thank Joe because he makes your mission possible. You thank Mandy because she helped your favorite grove of tree. You thank Liam because he helped you put food on a hungry family’s table.

When you look at someone from the perspective of, “What makes me grateful for this person?” a lot changes. What are some of the things that you can do to create a gratitude culture? One is you can take the donor-centered pledge. This is something that Tom Ahern and Simone Joyaux came up with in their 2008 book Keep Your Donors. They have 23 donor-centered principles and you can borrow from these or create your own. Make your own donor-centered pledge. I put some of my favorite ones up here on the screen.

It’s important that everybody in the organization really understand this because donors make your mission possible for everyone, not just for the development staff. You need to get some buy-in from the top to this customer service orientation. We know from a lot of research that’s been done, there’s a benchmarking report, there’s a donor-centered fundraising report and there’s a donor retention and royalty report by Adrian Sergeant.

We know that donor satisfaction hinges on the quality of service provided by the fundraising team. In fact, service is the simple biggest driver of loyalty towards your organization. Every contact with donors has to contribute towards the goal of extending the relationship and building satisfaction and commitment and trust. If the fundraiser does a great job, but the receptionist is rude, that destroys all your hard work.

As I’ve already noted, you want to make this part of your employee handbook, your employee orientation etc. You want to create a gratitude regimen. You want to try to come up with some ways to devote a portion of every day to gratitude and ask everyone on your staff, even ask your volunteers to do this. You want to show them the way to do this.

One way that I used to like to do this, was to keep five note cards on my desk and I ask everybody to do this. If find at the end of the week all those note cards hadn’t gone out — every day I’d write a thank you to somebody, and if they hadn’t gone out, I’d know I’d failed. You can also suggest setting aside 10-15 minutes a day for thank you calls. You just call anyone who just you struck you as deserving of a little extra hug that week.

One way that I just wrote about in my blog on Monday was borrowing from Jimmy Fallow, who if you watch his late night show, every Friday, he has a time where he writes thank you notes. These are kind of silly but I like the idea of “thank you it’s Friday” and having everybody come together and just spend a few minutes making thank you calls or writing notes and being grateful.

What you really need to do to reap the rewards here is to understand and break the karma of gratitude. There’s still a lot of psychological research on gratitude. I talked about it a little bit. Dr. Martin Seligman is one of the big people doing this and it reveals that receipts of a simple act of gratitude, as I said, feel this immediate 10% increase in happiness. It also decreases depression, anxiety and all sorts of good stuff. But guess what? The other thing about gratitude is that it’s reciprocal.

The research found that when people think about and write down what they’re grateful for, that’s you, writing your thank you card, your personal happiness increases as well. You feel happier, less depressed, less stressed and more energetic. When you thank your donor, two people get rewarded and you’re one of them. I want you to go back to your work today and think about how can you start to hug your donors and yourself. Everyone deserves a hug and the research shows us that you’re hugging your donors enough because I’ve showed you how horrible the donor retention rates are, so clearly, we’re all doing something wrong and there’s more than one reason but I think not being properly thanked is probably number one.

I’m guessing you put a ton of effort into asking. You think about who you’re writing to and what you’re going to say and when you’re going to say it, and it’s all oriented to have impact and to stand out for your asking. Why not be that exacting about how and when you thank? This might actually matter even more than everything you’ve put into asking because if you ask well, you get one donation. If you thank well, you may get a lifetime of donations.

Thank you for your time today and look for the link. I think Steven is going to send you a link to download a free ebook that I’m sending you today, and then you can also go to my website and get the donor thank you calls and script. I think maybe we have time for a question or two, Steven?

Steven: I think we do. We’ve got about probably four minutes until the 2:30 hour. I don’t want to keep folks too long, especially if they haven’t had lunch. But I’m going to kind of roll off these questions. Clair, Richard was asking, “Do you have generic digital policies and procedures document?” I guess for thanking donors, do you have an example of something that’s maybe a written policy like that?

Claire: I don’t actually have a generic written policies and procedures document. I should probably make one. That’s a really good idea.

Steven: It is a good idea. Maybe we can make one together. That would be fun.

Claire: Yeah. I would do that.

Steven: I know a couple of people asked, if we’re going to be sharing the presentation. But I am recording and I’ll be sending out the recording and the slides a little later on this afternoon. So if you joined late, you’ll be able to do that for sure in case you missed the beginning. I’m also going to share that ebook from Claire. That would be really cool to see.

Claire, this was really awesome to have you. This is probably the most important topic, I think, for fundraisers is to be better at thanking people. So thanks for being here. This is really fun and a couple of people have in that end were like, “Yeah.”

Claire: What I always tell people is if you want gifts, you got to give them. You’ve just got to spend some time thinking about all that you’ve got to give, because you do have stuff that’s not expensive. You’ve got like tip sheets. Depending on what you do, you can send people something “Ten Ways to Save the Environment” or “Ten Ways to Keep Seniors Safe at Home”. You got that and it’s helpful to donors. It just requires you to shift how you think about things.

I guess if there’s a moral to this webinar it’s just to look for opportunities. Whenever you can find an opportunity to demonstrate gratitude, do it.

Steven: Absolutely, it’s fun to do it too. It makes you feel good.

Claire: It does. It makes you feel good and it’s not just us saying it. There’s research that actually says it makes your body feel better. It makes your brain feel better. It makes you healthier.

Steven: Right, right. Cool, I know we didn’t have too much time for questions but, Claire, you told me you’d be willing to take some via email so I hope people will take advantage of that. Send her a tweet, follow her on Twitter, definitely read her blog, one of my favorite blogs for sure, something that I share.

Claire I do see a question here, “How do you do this when you need to send 1,000 thank you letters a week or more?”

Steven: That’s a good question.

Claire: Yeah. What you have to do is pick segments of donors and you need to prioritize and end up with the must send more special thank you type of donors and the “it would be good if we could figure out a way to do it”. Again, that’s why it takes a village. You need a lot of people helping you. If you can make part of everybody’s responsibility to help you with it, that’s going to make it more saleable.

Steven: One thing my wife does, she’s a PR person at a nonprofit but she works with the fundraising department. Every month or every couple weeks, I think, they get the board member together and I think, and they order about $100 worth of pizza and they have a pizza party and it’s just like a thanking party and they call, they write notes, they get board members, they gather volunteers and they make it a fun event and they get all that help like you suggested, and that’s really effective too.

Claire: Yeah, that’s kind of like the thank-a-thon. You do it monthly.

Steven: Yep, yep. Pizza makes all that happen. Pizza’s the best. Well, I think we’ll end it there, Claire. This has been really awesome. Thanks for being here. We won’t wait another year to have you back like we did this time. I promise.

Claire: Thank you, Steven, and thank you everybody on this call for all the important work that you do.

Steven: Yeah. Thank you everyone. Do check our resources page, we’ve got webinars, we do a webinar on every Thursday. We did this on a Wednesday just because of some scheduling issues with me but we’ve got some really cool webinars coming up. These are the next two. You’ll find more on our webinar page but these are the next ones coming up the next Thursday. We’re going to have everything you need to know about running a sponsorship campaign and we’re going to have getting your board on board with fundraising.

Check those out if you’re interested. There are some other topics there that may catch your eye. We’d love to see you again. Totally free, totally educational. We’ll have someone just as smart as Claire presenting, so we’d love to see you again. We’ll call it a day there. Thanks for hanging out with us and have a great rest of your week. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.