Your thank you letter is the first step toward retaining a donor. Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE recently joined us for a webinar in which she shared for tips on how to nail your donor thank yous!

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

Full Transcript:

Gail: Today, by the way, my friends, I hang out in the blogosphere for fundraising and there’s a lot of talk these days about thank yous. And this is just hot off the press today, The Agitator is blogging about thank you letters. A lot of people are today and I love this idea. I love the idea that your thank you says to the donor that “You matter.” And I just want to tell you that I made a bunch of Giving Tuesday gifts and I know you all probably did too. And I made a gift to a local organization here in Raleigh, North Carolina where I live and it was an email gift, online gift and they sent me an email thank you letter and it was so lame, it almost made me want to throw up.

This is what it said. It said, “Private support is essential for services such as these to be delivered to the blah, blah, blah” like private support is essential. Does that make me feel good? Does that make me feel like I matter? It was the most lame, it was the most impersonal and it was so organization-centered rather than donor centered. So see if your thank you letter makes the donor feel like they matter.

And I was just reading another blogger today about thank you letters and the guy said that there was this lady who saw him at an event and she walked up to him and she said, “I got a thank you letter from you that was handwritten and it was so wonderful” and she started crying. And she said to this guy, the fundraiser, she said, “I give regularly to many charities but no one has ever thanked me personally.”

So how do you make this regular old thank you letter feel so personal that maybe your donor will find you at an event, go across the room, find out who you are and almost weep about the thank you letter that you wrote her. Now, this is our goal, because we know that if you can write a letter like that, your donor will stay with you forever, won’t she or won’t he? Certainly much longer than most other donors.

And here is one more blogger today and this is the article that The Agitator . . . by the way, I read The Agitator just about daily. It’s I think, Roger Craver. That’s the one blog that I would higher recommend that you never miss. They blogged about this today. This guy Matthew Sheerington, he’s a British guy and he said, “Forget about thanking your donors.” He said, “Instead thinking about congratulating them for the difference that they’re making and for what they’ve achieved. Don’t be grateful, be humble and it’s our job as a charity is to help people do their good in the world, not the other way around.”

So what he’s making the point is that our thank you letters are not donor centered, they are organization centered, because they thank donors for giving us the money so that we can do the good work. And what he’s saying and what I try to say is that if you can create a donor centered thank you letter, you are giving the donor credit for the work. So you’re saying, “Thank you Mr. Donor for making this happen in our community.” You’re not saying, “Thank you Mr. Donor for giving us the money, so that we can work so hard to create this good impact in the world.”

Instead you remove your organization as the intermediary between the donor and the impact of the work. I’m going to hit on this again and again, because that is the essence of what a really good donor centered thank you letter does. I want to pull some of my favorite slides from our friends at Bloomerang, and I do want to tell you that I highly recommend Bloomerang software. A lot of the people that I coach in fundraising are choosing Bloomerang and they’re writing me and telling me how much they appreciate it and how much they like Bloomerang software.

And I will say one of the reasons I like the software particularly is that you can set up your dashboard the minute you log into your fundraising software to see what your donor retention and donor attrition is. So if you don’t know your donor retention and attrition, you need to be on top of that because that’s where the easy money is in fundraising today.

The reason I’m showing this slide is that here’s what’s vulnerable. If we do a crappy job of thanking our donors, then we’re going to get really poor donor retention and the donor thank you letter is the first step in retaining your donor and getting the second gift. So your thank you letter is not like some grand bread and butter thing that you just have to do moan and groan, no. Your thank you letter is the first step in the next solicitation. So given that it’s that critical a step in the process, we get to pay a whole lot more attention to it.

Here’s just one more slide from Bloomerang about data just for this year. The biggest most vulnerable tool of donors you have are your first time donors. And this data is pretty consistent over the years that about one out of every five new donors to your organization is going to renew, and four out of every five new donors to your organization are not going to renew. So your job is to slather your donors with thanks and with joy so that they feel so connected to you that they’re going to keep giving.

And I would also suggest maybe even more particularly your first time online donors are most vulnerable of all, because I think the online thank you process is weaker than the paper thank you process. I’d be interesting to see if I get a paper thank you letter in addition to an email thank you letter from the lame people that I gave to just earlier this week.

Now, let’s talk about what makes a good thank you letter because we know that when your donor is satisfied she is going to give again and give more the next time she’s asked, right? So thank you so much for tweeting Rachel. I love it. Thanks so much. And so what’s in a great letter? I’ve got all sorts of tips, and I’ll probably go a little fast since we’re short on time. I’ve closed down the questions because they were distracting me, because I was worried about my audio, so I’m not looking at the questions right now.

And so I’m going to quote a lot of Penelope Burk because she did some of the early work on donor thank you letters that I think is still very valuable today. And one of the things I like about her is that she’s surveying donors and they are giving her bona fide answers. Although we do know that what people say in a survey may not agree with what they do. But this data is useful that the number one thing that donors think make the superior thank you letter is that it’s personalized. So if you’ve got 100 big donors to your organization, the largest 100 donors, I will peel them off for something even more special and something even more personal.

And if you have a whole slew of routine thank you letters that are mass produced and mass printed, why don’t you take them to a staff meeting and do what we call “Top and Tail” the thank you letter. It says, “Dear Mr. Smith,” printed. Slash it out and write Mr. Smith or James or something and slash out the bottom and say, “Thank you.” You’ve seen letters like that where somebody would take a blue pen and they’ll write on top of the printed letter. That might be a really short cut way to personalize a lot of letters.

And to me, there’s nothing more meaningful to me when I get a letter from somebody that clearly is not massed produced. I also think I’m going to have a little bit about handwritten thank you letters here too. I think if you really want to hit a homerun with your thank you letter, send a printed letter and then send a handwritten thank you letter from someone else in addition to the printed letter. I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten a one, two punch on thank you letters before, but if I did, I would probably faint and I’ll probably keep right on giving.

And so probably again, besides personalization, I think that really, really prompt thank you letters are absolutely essential and here’s Penelope Burk’s research, but it’s been corroborated with other studies that show that the sooner the donor gets the thank you letter, the more likely they are to give again. And they even measured a week lag time versus 24 hours or 48 hours.

So I think that you should get those thank you letters out quickly to be absolutely top importance and that’s why your back office is so important to your productivity of any fundraising office. And we know that your donor software like Bloomerang is a key part of your back office. Help your back office people understand how important this is. Give them credit for their role in bringing in more money. The Agitator blog says that the back office of any fundraising operation, that includes the software, is responsible for 25% of the profit. So get your back office people onboard to crank at these thank you letters quickly.

And to me, it makes me think that an organization is well run when I get a quick thank you letter, and that also means that I feel like my money is going to be well used if the organization is efficient and they can make it happen so quickly. Also, again, may I please beg you, talk about how the money is going to be used because I get this generic crap. I get generic appeals. I get generic thank you letters.

Well, why don’t you tell me that you’re raising 50,000 this year to expand your boys and girls club so that you can bring in a target of 200 more kids. Why don’t you tell me that your independent school is going to be offering enhanced technology and sports equipment with our annual fund money? Why don’t you tell me that the backpack bodies program is going to expand to another 500 kids this year because of my gifts in December and other people?

The donor wants to know where the money is going and we have such a terrible problem with trust these days. Donors don’t trust us . . . use our money wisely, so if you can talk to your donor even in general terms about how you’re going to use it, she’s going to be happier and that’s what we mean by impact. Talk about the project that you’re going to spend the money on and talk about the impact that the money will have.

By the way I have got quotes from thank you letters sprinkled in here. I just want to say these are some of the best thank you letters ever written in my book, so study these thank you letters and knock them off, see what you can do. Go directly makes the donor happy.

Now, can you acknowledge your donor’s previous giving? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you can peel off your previous supporters or you should certainly acknowledge that somebody is a monthly donor or that they’ve been supporting you for 10 or 20 years. I get letters from people that I’ve supported for 10 or 20 years and they don’t mention that they know that I’m a long term supporter or that I have their organization in my will or anything. They both know that I have the organization in the will, but nobody takes the trouble to acknowledge in the thank you letter my long term commitment to their organization.

And it just makes me feel like it’s not personalized. It’s not going to change my commitment because my commitment is deeper than the thank you letter, it’s a personal connection. But gosh, don’t you think it’s good manners to let your long term donors know that you in fact know what they’ve done for you all these years? I think so.

Here’s a comment about tone of the letter and I pulled some quotes from Penelope Burk because . . . actually, I think these are my quotes on the right-hand side of this hand side of this page. How can you convey excitement, gratitude and more to your donor? Can’t you say right at the beginning of a thank you letter instead of “It’s essential that private contributions come in blah, blah, blah.” Can’t you say, “We were thrilled to receive your gift last week”? Or “Because of your gift, a family is going to have clean water or a warm coat for their child.”

I think that we in fundraising do a terrible job of our language. Nobody wants to use words like desperate, heartbroken, sad, difficult. We want to use lofty words that are better, not so emotionally gripping. And why don’t you throw some words in there that mean something? Through some verbs in there that mean something. Ditch the lofty nonprofit tone please and wear your heart on your sleeve. I think you should wear your heart on your sleeve when you send out your appeal letter and certainly you can gush, if gushing is your personality, when you thank.

For example the gifts I made, I did it on Monday night early to another . . . the Interfaith Food Shelter here in Raleigh. I just sent them $50. I like them and they were in my inbox on Monday night, and I’ve always liked them. I don’t know if I’ve ever given. And so boom, there goes $50. I’m thrilled. I’m happy. I said, “Oh yes, I start off giving Tuesday with a bang.”

Do you know that first thing Tuesday morning, I get a personal note from the Development Director? He says, “Gail, I was thrilled to receive your gift. We think so much of your work. Well, I’m sending your blogs to our board, blah, blah, blah.” I don’t need to be flattered by him, but it made me happy that he knew who I was and he took the time to let me know that. This is not so difficult everybody. It’s not so difficult at all.

Now, what about grabbing the reader’s attention? Can’t you start off . . . this is a thank you letter that I actually worked on with a music group. They were beating around the bush in their thank you letter and I said, “Listen, why don’t we just start right off and say how proud we are that we nourish and enrich our lives with music?” Let’s be happy about our work and let’s connect the donor right off the bat with a wonderful opening sentence.”

Start out with something unusual. Never ever start your thank you letter with “On behalf of the blah, blah, blah.” Do you want to read a letter like that? No, no, not at all. And how about a personal address? Use a personal salutation. I’m quoting Penelope Burk here, “A letter without a personal address leaves the donor feeling like . . .” The organization knew I got a gift but who gave me the gift? I don’t know. So like “Dear friend,” it’s just awful. I just don’t think you’ll ever get another gift from this donor if you send out a dear friend letter.

Now, I get a lot of questions about who should sign the thank you letter and I think it’s lovely if you can have somebody sign all the letters in blue ink. It is a sign of respect. It does take time, but what is the most important thing in your organization? Fundraising may be one of the most important things that you all will ever do and getting your donor retention up a few notches, keeping the money flowing in may be really, really, really important. So why don’t you analyze the costs versus benefits of trying to figure out how to sign a lot, and if you got hundreds of thousands of various . . .

I know Michael has got an excellent question. He’s got hundreds of thousands of very personalized segmented letters. You’ve got to be efficient and you’ve got to figure out the most efficient way to do this given your organization’s resources, but I do have a thank you letter in this slide deck that I’ve got and it’s clearly mass produced and it almost made me cry. And it was not necessarily segmented. Segment as best as you can, personalize as best as you can based on your organization’s resources.

And here’s some examples. I once heard of a nonprofit, they had a very quick paper thank you letter turn around. They were very proud of that. But then, they also had a group of little old ladies who came in once a week and hand-wrote thank you letters on top of whatever the organization had already done. And the older ladies had a pizza lunch or whatever lunch. So they had a social event, they were volunteering for their course.

I also heard of another organization. I think it might have been a Ronald McDonald House and there are a lot of organizations that like to have their employees volunteer as a group, so this company went to the nonprofit and said, “Hi, can we volunteer?” And the nonprofit said, “We’d love to have you all make thank you calls to our donors.” So how amazing to have your corporate volunteers making thank you calls on behalf of your organization.

I love that idea. I’ve had people say that they have people wanting to volunteer but they don’t know what to do with them. Put them to work in the fundraising program, on the thank you side of it and I think you might get some real knowledge from that. And also you talk about a heart warming activity for a volunteer to take on extremely.

Now, I think too that somebody signing the letter is important and I like somebody from the highest ranks of the organization. I do not think the poor lowly development clerk should sign the letters and I don’t think the development director should sign the letters, even if you do all the work. You do not need to be signing the letters. They should come from the board chair or the chair of the board. And also why don’t you try having the prima ballerina sign the letters?

North Carolina Symphony is so popular here in Raleigh or in the state, what if the conductor signed some of the letters? I just think that would be so exciting or have somebody sign the letter who was helped by your organization. Wouldn’t that be amazing? I love that.

Send another letter from a grateful recipient. This is one of my absolute favorite images on this slide, Sponsor a Child and it’s clearly a drawing from a kid and she says, “Thank you for the present.” If I got this thank you letter in the mail hand lettered by a child, it would break my heart and it would make me so happy. So frankly, the most powerful thank you letter I see in this whole bunch of great examples I’m giving you all today, is the one that comes from the kid.

So you can be creative. I think maybe we get a little bit stale. And she’s saying that they’re a child based nonprofit and we have our children sign special letters with the misspellings and the backward letter in them. Oh, that is just so cool. This is another interesting idea. One of the things you need to do, you need to be always refreshing your content in the letter and that’s so hard.

I remember when I was a staff fundraiser. It was so dreary to have to redo my thank you letters, so like “Ho hum, what do I say now?” But you know, if I decided to change the content of my thank you letters often, I could say like “I just heard the story which I want to share with you” and by the way Richard Turner, our fundraiser, he is blogging right now about thank you letters and I’ve got him at the resource at the end of this presentation, so check him out, read his articles.

And he just said that you need to be authentic about sharing a story. So just think about what’s going on in your organization that you want to tell your donor about. Because it’s going to make your donor happy to hear it from you. Richard also says that if you can bring in fresh content, then you’re making your donor feel like an insider.

Richard also says that if you’re looking for stories to share with your donors in thank you letters, then you’ll be looking for those stories, you’d be talking to your program people and you’ll find some stories you can use not only in the thank you letters but maybe in other places like working directly one-on-one with donors. Maybe if you’re making thank you phone calls.

And somebody asked the question earlier if I preferred, how I felt about thank you phone calls versus letters. Frankly I think you need to do both. Studies show that if a donor receives a thank you phone call they’re more likely to give again and they are more likely to give more. But I think the paper letter is the bread and butter and that’s your basic tool. You must do the paper letter I think, which is good manners and then you can enhance with an additional handwritten or a phone call.

Also this is what I touched on earlier in our conversation, was the idea of giving the donor credit for your work, and this is so hard to do. I tell people do this. I say, “Send me your thank you letter, send me your appeal letter, but make sure you give them the credit” and nobody will do it. They say, “Oh, we were founded in 1905 and since then we’ve served 100,000 people in our community, and we’ve gotten this award and blah, blah, blah. And your gift helped us feed these people. People your gift helped us bring art. Your gift helped us do blah, blah, blah water.”

Instead of saying to the donors, “Your gift brought the water to the people. Your gift saved lives. You’re gift gave books to kids to read.” It is such a fundamental difference and it’s not intuitive and hardly anybody does it. So if you can pull that off, send me your letter and I will put it in my next webinar because I would like to see it. I would love to see it.

Now, look, I’m a volunteer with an organization way back in east North Carolina and they were sending pre-printed cards and it was enough to drive me crazy. And she said, “Oh, we can’t afford to send letters.” Give me a break, no wonder they only had like 250 donors left. So surely, you’re not sending pre-printed cards anymore. And if you are, I imagine that your fundraising totals are going downhill very quickly.

One of the great rules of fundraising is that the thank you letter does not ask for another gift. It’s a matter of some controversy and let me tell you why, because studies show that the number one time a donor will make another gift to the organization is within six weeks of their first gift. So people who are in direct mail and especially people who are in monthly giving know that this is absolutely correct and the data is correct. And so they do try to get another ask in there with the gift.

And then other people say, “Don’t you dare to it.” I think it’s very awkward if you ask for another gift. And if you do want to try to do that you have to be so smooth and so heart felt and so much about the impact on the people who need the help that that’s the only way you can possibly pull it off.

It’s really interesting that Penelope Burk said that 21% of charity she surveyed do in fact include a return envelope in the thank you letter, and so maybe a return envelope in the thank you letter could be a little prompt. I don’t know and I think perhaps you need to test that with your own donors.

A lot of us are saying, “Don’t ask the donor to do anything.” I don’t like thank you letters that ask me to take a survey. I don’t like thank you letters that require any action on my part because I’m suspicious. I don’t like a thank you letter that has an enclosure and you can see on the slide that Penelope Burk has said that 86% of charities do include some kind of enclosure such as a survey, a newsletter, an invitation or a gift.

I don’t think that’s a good idea and I think Penelope Burke agrees with me. I think it should be straight forward just like your appeal letter is stronger if you do not couple it with a fundraising brochure. So the letter itself needs to stand on its own and have one point.

How about spelling errors and grammatical errors? I really, really think that there are way too many errors out there. I blog weekly, and I’m sending emails all the time, so I hope people would give me the benefit of the doubt if there are typos because online communication, there’s a little greater forgiveness in online communication. But for something that’s typed, it’s extremely awkward if there are grammatical or spelling errors. So again, make sure the donor feels like you care about them, so you can do this correctly.

I spoke about tone earlier, but I want to talk about tone from a different direction. How about being casual? We do know that all of the communications online should be more casual than communications in print. Do you agree with me? Because the stuff that’s happening online is just different and the stuff that’s happening through social media is supposed to be social, which means it’s really casual. It’s really playful. If you’re trying to be social media and you’re not being entertaining, you’re probably falling on your face, right? So look at your tone.

Let me define what tone means from my English major at UNC Chapel Hill. Tone means the attitude of the writer towards the subject of the letter or the attitude of the writer towards the person that they’re writing to. So what is your attitude? Is it lofty and distant or is it warm and fuzzy? Are you loving on your donors? Are you treating them like your best friend? If you’re treating your donor like they’re family, like a best friend, would you say, “On behalf of blah, blah, blah”? No. You might say, “We were so thrilled. Thank you so much.” Think about how you will write a personal thank you letter for a gift, a Christmas present or a holiday gift or something, your birthday present.

Now, this is really important that I see, this a huge error in mass communication a lot, that people write generically to a group of people. For example, I’m going to get a thank you letter “It’s thanks to gifts like yours that . . .” No, no that’s more specific. You could say, “Without the generous support of people like you . . .” I’m sorry. I’m not being clear.

If you send out a letter and say, “All of you are saying blah, blah, blah” instead of you are saying blah, blah, blah. You want to write the letter like it’s to one person rather than a group of people, and the reason is is that one person is listening and one person is reading the letter. If you follow my blog that I send out every Friday, my newsletter. If you notice, I’m always writing to you, the reader. I’m not writing to all of you or I’m not writing to a pool of you. I hope I’m clear on that. I’m not sure if I was.

And Penelope Burk also says, “Not only do you not ask, but you’re not continuing to sell your organization.” Now, you are telling the reader what they are accomplishing. There’s a difference between selling your organization and bragging. You don’t want to be bragging but you want to be talking heartfelt about the work that you’re doing.

Here is Penelope Burk’s favorite letter in her famous book “Donor Centered Fundraising” and I know this thank you letter so well I could almost repeat it by heart. And this thank you letter has like five sentences and it starts out with “You must have heard the cheers from Donna Karfunkle this morning when we told her that you are funding blah, blah project. Now, her excitement was matched by our own deep appreciation for your belief in and support of our work.”

What a lovely thank you letter. Can you write a thank you letter to your donor that says you must have heard the cheers in the hall? And maybe you can’t authentically say that to everybody, but see if you can have that kind of happy tone in your letter. How about sincere? In the meantime our regards and sincere thanks. It’s about a lovely way to close a letter.

How about handwritten letters? Here are some rules for handwritten letters. What if you just take five minutes here and there to pen a quick handwritten thank letter. You should definitely handwrite if you know the donor personally, if they’re well known in the community, if they’re a long term supporter, if they’re well known, if they’re a leadership donor. Clearly these are times when you definitely handwrite the letters.

And what about another additional handwritten letter from a senior program staffer? What about that? I just think that’s a lovely thing. We are seeing a big trend in major gift fundraising of connecting program staff with donors, so consider that as a possibility.

And here’s another wonderful letter. “Dear Mrs. Hamilton, we needed you and you were there. We’re so grateful for you donation which has been allocated to our new literacy program for street youths.” This person is saying directly how they’re allocating the money and it’s letting the donor know that we’re going to circle back to you with some information. It tells the donor who to contact. It’s so short and it’s wonderful. Can you knock this off?

Here is a thank you letter that was sent to me, I guess it was October, November 22, September 22. And by the way, I made this gift online on September 11th, the morning of September 11th to Doctors Without Borders and they mailed me the thank you letter on the 22nd of the month, so that was what, an 11 day turn around. Now, this is a mass produced letter and it starts out “On behalf of” but I want to tell you one thing that this letter almost made me cry, and this letter almost made me go right to the computer and send them another gift.

And they didn’t ask for a gift but they were so clear about what they’re doing, and ‘We rushed an emergency surgery team and 100 tons of medical supply by air and sea in Yemen.” “In Ukraine we did this” but they’re not bragging. There’s a difference between bragging and being really urgent about the work, and I like the last sentence or the last two sentences in this letter and I cut it off a little bit. The very last sentence says, “Thank you very much for joining us in our important something mission.” You have to fill in that word because it got cut off. But can’t you just say something like that to your donors in a thank you letter? This is really great stuff.

And here’s another one and by the way I’m closing down my own presentation so I can take some questions in a minute. I’m just going over some other really terrific thank you letters so that you can think about these and use these as a new model. Here’s one, “Dear Mrs. Jones, at the time when you were remembering someone very dear to you, you also thought of others now living with terminal illness and you extended your hand of support to them. On their behalf and from us, thank you.”

Now look how short this is, look how lovely this is. This is thoughtful. This is heartfelt. This is emotional. It doesn’t beat around the bush. It makes me happy. It makes me happy. Here’s a letter that Steve Pidgeon, great blogger and speaker. If you’ve never heard him speak at a conference, you should not miss him at all. Look. This guy from the Irish Red Cross. He ups and writes Mr. Pidgeon to say, “I’ve noticed it’s five years this month since we received your first kind donation, and I do have our records are accurate, but I wanted to say how very much we appreciated your support and kindness over these years.”

Isn’t that sweet? And then there’s other stuff in the letter “that’s made possible only because of steadfast kindness that is yours.” Can you thank you donors for their steadfast kindness? Can you offer your donors your warmest wishes? This is real stuff. This is real human to human. I have not seen, quite frankly the word kind and kindness used in thank you letters a whole lot in the States. But I do see it in letters from other parts of the world. I was just in Australia last month on a speaking tour and I’m seeing a different kind of term over there as well.

And here’s another one. This came from Adrian Sargeant, the very famous researcher, and again, this is a British entity. “Thank you for your support. Your recent gift will make a difference in the lives of many that might otherwise go without. For every dollar of your contribution you have provided five meals to your hungry neighbors in need.” That is just about all you need to say, isn’t it?

This is a donor centered thank you letter. It doesn’t say “Because of you support, we are able to help 66,000 different people.” Instead it says, “Because of your support 66,000 people will receive emergency food.” This is connecting the donor directly with the impact. I love this letter. These are really lovely.

And it has a PS about matching gifts. That’s an okay PS. So we’re just about great on time. I’m going to give you my short checklist. Thank you letters dos and don’ts and I have this all written up in a blog on my website, and I’ve got a live link to my blog post about thank you letters on slide 46 in just a few minutes.

Let’s just review, be really, really prompt, get the donor’s name right, have a high-ranking person sign the letter personally. Show some emotion please. I think that will be wearing your heart on your sleeve. Convey gratitude, convey emotional gratitude. It’s very different from the lofty formal tone that nonprofits like to use. Talk about how you’re going to use the gifts and if you can, acknowledge the fact that your donor has given before.

Send thank you notes from different several people if you can. Send the thank you letter from somebody helped by your organization. Have board members send thank you letters and make phone calls. Use a real signature. If you’ve noticed, all of these thank you letters that I just showed you are emotional, but they’re positive and upbeat. They’re talking about hope for good works and good things to happen in the world.

I don’t know if you read my blog but if you do, you might notice that I’m so succinct. I will write my newsletter and I will write my blog post on Fridays, and I will go back through and I will edit out every word and phrase and even sentence that I can possible get rid of while still making my point. Brevity is highly valued, highly valued.

Penelope Burk is really big on including a contact name and number. I think that this is good manners and it helps the donor feel like you’re treating them like a real person. Handwrite the letter if you know the donor well and begin with a lovely innovative sentence. Can you charm your donor with a thank you letter? Love this stuff. And then here is my list of thank you letter don’ts.

Don’t start even though Doctors Without Borders wrote, “On behalf of generally,” I would say unless you can make somebody weep with the rest of the letter, I would start out with a different phrase. And don’t ask for another gift and don’t use jargon. “Blah, blah, we’re deeply grateful for your continued support.” Don’t use Dear Friend. Don’t misspell their name. Don’t ask anything else from your donor right now.

Take a look at your grammar. Don’t go on and on and be verbose. Don’t keep selling. Don’t ask the donor to do anything. Don’t be formal and don’t vague about how the money will be used. Don’t sign it yourself if you can get a high ranking person to sign it. I think maybe overall, I think you just wear your heart on your sleeve and be yourself as best as you possibly can. Again if you don’t read my blog and newsletter, I invite you to sign up. It’s once or twice a week and I’m always talking about the latest trends in philanthropy and what you really need to know.

But if you do read my material, you can tell that I wear my heart on my sleeve. You can tell that I show my personality, that I’m willing to be a real person, and it comes across and it creates trust and it creates the connection. So by the way, I think that you are awesome because you’re sticking with me and you’re spending this time on a busy, busy, busy time of year. So let me just say I bought this print because I liked it so much. And when somebody signs up for my blog I send it to them. But can you make your donors feel this awesome? Can you write a love letter to your donors and say you’re awesome and here are the ways. Let me count the reasons why you’re awesome.

You need to be able to be just like this to the wonderful people who are supporting your mission and if you do, you will build repeat donors that you can count on year after year. And if you have repeat donors you can count on year after year, what do you have? You have sustainable cash flow. So my friends I’ll tell you, by focusing on loving your donors, you build up this whole staple of loyal people who are with you over and over and over.

You have less work and you’re able to go to this die hard group of people because they’re so connected. Whenever there’s something new, they’re thrilled to be able to help you because they join with you in carrying out this work, and you’re making them feel happy. So hurray, hurray. So here are my resources and here’s my blog at the top. That’s my blog with my thank you letter dos and don’ts. But the fifth one “Don’t Ask, Don’t Thank” that’s yesterday’s post from The Agitator by Roger Craver, that’s very important.

And then we’ve got Matthew Sheerington who is very provocative, wrote earlier this week about how why asking and thanking is all wrong. And again he’s like taking the art. He’s taking it on his head and saying we need to be humble and take a different tone altogether to our donors.

By the way everybody, this is the cutting edge of fundraising right now, because the key changes in fundraising are around our words and the way we’re communicating and connecting with our donors, the donor engagement. This is where all the excitement is. This is where the fulcrum is. This is where the opportunity is and this is where you can either gain or lose your trends and your fundraising totals is trying to master this new way of connecting. So study the stuff. It’s current and it’s important. It’s really important, so I can’t wait to take some questions.

And lastly every good presentation has a call to action and so my call to action is go to these people, subscribe to all of their blogs. I’d love you for to sign up for my newsletter. But I really, really do want to say something about the IRS disclaimer. I don’t like the IRS disclaimer. I think it’s awkward and I think it’s . . . Hello?

Steven: Hey, you’re still there Gail, you’re still there.

Gail: Okay. Well, can I just say something about the IRS disclaimer?

Steven: Yes, please.

Gail: For me it adds a note of business. It takes away from the emotional joy. I don’t like the IRS disclaimer. I would rather not have it in the thank you letter at all. I’d rather it not be included. You can send it by email. Do you really need it? I’m not so sure you really need it for everybody. I get thank you letters all the time and I get an IRS disclaimer about 1 out of every 10, and it doesn’t make me feel very good. It makes me feel sort of yucky because it takes away from the warmth of my philanthropy. So I would suggest find a different way.

“And so what about organizations who don’t thank people who give less than $25?” John, that is a great question. I think it’s a real mistake. I guess you’re saying you don’t want any gift under $25, right? Why don’t you just add up all those gifts and if it’s not worth you thanking, then it’s not worth anybody giving. I think it’s a real misplaced set of priorities quite frankly, really misplaced.

“What about adding a business card?” I don’t know. I’ve had a card that if I wrote a personal note saying, “I’d be thrilled if you wanted to contact me. Here is my card.” But wouldn’t just send one without that. I don’t think so.

Let’s see. Joan says, “What’s the importance of using a name instead of writing Dear Friend, because their organization is concerned that if they write Dear Mrs. Smith and they wanted you to write Dear Mrs. John Smith they may be offended.” I tell you what, I think I’d rather try Mrs. John Smith rather than write Friend because I’m going to be even more offended. I’m not going to give you another gift if you write me a generic Dear Friend letter. I think that is very sad and somebody is making some decisions who doesn’t understand fundraising clearly.

Gabby wants to know, “How should you ask for matching gifts?” There’s a lovely request for matching gifts on one of these sample thank you letters that I would knock off. Patsy wants to know “How do you address a letter to an organization with a very long name?” How do you address a letter to an organization with a very long name? Maybe use an abbreviation? I’m not sure. I’m not sure about that. Let’s see. “Other ways we can include the IRS statement.” Oh boy, it’s some great questions.

Let me ask about the IRS statement. First of all, do you really need it? I would investigate that and I’m not an expert on that. I can’t tell you. You can always put it on the back of your thank you letter on the other side so the donor has it but it’s not part of the gushing or the happy part. If you look at these thank you letters that I’m giving as examples, there weren’t tax receipts with these things.

Lynn says that they make it very small in the footer so it doesn’t intrude. That’s a great idea. “Should monthly newsletters be personalized?” The more you can personalize the better. It depends on your organization’s resources.

“What resource would you suggest to show our board the importance of donor centric communication versus look how great we are?” Give them Penelope Burk’s book “Donor Centered Fundraising.” Give them any blog, blogger in the past 5 or 10 years in the blogosphere on fundraising. You’ve got to educated them about what 21st century fundraising really is. By the way, we have an enormous opportunity with our boards and let me give you the reasons. I work with boards all over the world. I do board retreats and workshops, let me tell you what I find.

I find that they are fascinated to learn about fundraising. They are curious. They think the data is extremely interesting to them and that you, my friends, have the opportunity to educate your board members more deeply about 21st century fundraising. How fundraising strategy works today and how are they going to complain? You’re not asking them to take part in fundraising, but you’re educating them and if you can educate them then they’re going to able to vote and make better decisions, and they will make smarter investments in your overall fundraising program.

I’m about having to close out here soon. Also Pauline said that her board members have just starting writing handwritten thank you notes to all new members, and they love it. They love it. And Laurie says, “Along with our thank you, we send a support sticker.” I think the sticker is lovely. I gave a gift to, I don’t know if you all know the Buddhist leader, but I was a volunteer. He’s a big meditation mindfulness Buddhist leader and I made a monthly pledge, after being asked, to his foundation. And they sent me a little sticker. It said, “Breathe” because I practice meditation. I just put the sticker right up in my kitchen. It made me so happy.

So there are some situations, I know this is a personal anecdote, but there are some situations where something like a sticker that really impacts your organization, reflects your organization’s work in the donor’s interest area could be a lovely touch. And so I’m going to have to close down now. I want to invite you, if you’d like to, to email me.

You can tweet #GailPerryNC and I’ll connect with you or my email is [email protected], love to chat with you. My major gift coaching group is launching in January. I also do a lot of capital campaign coaching, lots of fun stuff. Steven, do you want to take it back?

Steven: Sure, Gail. That was really awesome. Thanks so much and thank you to everyone who joined in today. Like Gail said, I know it’s a super busy time of year and I definitely appreciate everyone hanging with us to those technical difficulties on the front end. So thanks so much Gail. We’ll have you back maybe to talk about boards or something of that sort, because this is one of our most popular webinars of the year for sure. Please do connect with Gail. Yeah, go ahead.

Gail: I just want to thank everybody so much. I know how busy it is and you all are doing such great work and you all are not thanked very much. So I want to thank you while you’re working on your thank you letters for such wonderful work in the world and I just so appreciate it so much. It’s an honor. It’s really an honor to work with everybody today.

Steven: Absolutely. Well, I’ll close it out by saying it again that we’re going to send out the slides and the recording a little later on, so just look for an email from me. You will be able to get that good stuff and definitely follow along with Gail online. Shoot her an email. I know we didn’t get to all the questions. I apologize for that. But Gail is willing to take some questions via email, so don’t be shy at all.

So we’ll love to see you again on a future webinar. We have lots of resources on Bloomerang’s website as well. Our second to last webinar of the year is one week from today, we’ve got Dennis Fischman coming onboard. He’s going to talk about nonprofit blogging. So if you guys have a blog or maybe you don’t have one but you’re interested in getting started in a blogging program for your organization, check that out. Dennis is a super smart guy. That’s going to be a fun one.

But if we don’t see you then we’ll hopefully see you inn another webinar soon. Good luck with the year end appeals, especially good luck with your thank you letters. Hopefully you can take some of Gail’s advice and put that into immediate use. So we’ll call it a day there. Thanks for going a little long with us. Look for an email from me later on today and hopefully we’ll talk to you again soon. So have a great rest of your day and a great weekend.

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.