Pamela Grow recently joined us for a webinar in which she explored how a nonprofit’s gift acknowledgments can make or break long-term sustainable funding. After all, how your organization thanks donors can set the stage for future gifts.

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

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Pamela, you want to go ahead and get started for real? I’m ready when you are.

Pamela: I’m ready.

Steven: All right, cool. Good afternoon everyone on the East Coast, and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or you’re somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “The Power of Thank You,” a special Wednesday edition. And my name is Steven Shattuck, I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.

And just in case, just want to do a couple housekeeping items before we get started, just want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation and we’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides just a little later on this afternoon. So if you have to leave earlier, if you perhaps want to review the content later on, you’ll be able to do that. Just look for an email from me with all those great things in them.

And as you’re listening today, please feel free, be encouraged to use that chat box right there on your screen throughout the presentation. We’re going to save some time for questions and answers towards the end of the session. So don’t be shy at all. Send in your questions, send in your comments. We always love to see those things as they come in. So don’t be shy at all.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, a special welcome to you. We do webinars just about every week, one of our favorite things to do over here at Bloomerang. But in addition to that our main business is donor management software. So if you are in the market for a new database or perhaps you’re going to be looking soon, check it out. I’d love for you to look at our features. You can get a video demo. You don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to. So check us out if you’re interested in that, and we’d love to keep that conversation going a little later on.

So I want to go ahead and introduce today’s guest. I am so excited. And I just want to let everyone know that Pamela Grow, our guest today, she is now the number three webinar presenter for us of all time. She’s broken into the top three in terms of registration. So Pamela, congratulations. Thanks for being here.

Pamela: Oh my gosh. I’m totally, totally tickled. And honestly . . .

Steve: You should be.

Pamela: I’m kind of stunned. I’m a huge fan of Bloomerang, and it’s a real honor to be here today. And I really, really want to thank you.

Steve: I’m very excited.

Pamela: I’m listening. Did I lose you?

Steve: Oh, no. I’m still here. I want to just brag on you little bit, Pamela, before you get started officially. Just in case you folks don’t know, Pamela, you should know her. She is the publisher of the Grow Report, which is a really great newsletter. If you don’t get that newsletter, you need to sign up for it. She’s also the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems, the membership program.

She’s been helping nonprofits for over 15 years. She’s been named one of the 50 most influential fundraisers by Civil Society Magazine and also one of the 40 most effective fundraising consultants by the Michael Chatman Giving Show. And this is really a treat. Pamela does not do webinars very often, but I was able to convince her to do one for us. So Pamela, I’m not going to say anything more. Why don’t you take it away forward, my friend.

Pamela: Well, thanks again, Steven. Thanks for having me. And I am a huge fan as you know, of Bloomerang, of the software. Several of my members are using Bloomerang. They’re very thrilled with it. And I want to thank everyone who showed up here today because it’s just a super busy time of the year, and it’s really awesome that you’re taking time out of your day to join us. I’m here today to talk to you about one of the most important aspects of fundraising, and that’s really your thank you letters and your stewardship.

Skip through these. And for those of you who are small shot people on the line today, that’s exactly how I started out, and it’s actually my favorite thing to do. The real money obviously is when you’re a development director and you’re managing a team of fundraisers with a team of major gift officers and a marketing department and tech support and all that. I really, believe it or not, I love doing it all. And it’s kind of crazy all the things that you have to do. You have to keep on top of. Basically I was Director of Individual Giving, Head of Donor Communications and Public Relations, database manager, website manager, grants manager, events coordinator. You name it, and I did it, even loading the dishwasher.

So I bet a lot of you are in the same boat. And I remember diving in feet first. I was writing grant proposals. I basically started out. That’s kind of how I started because I had come from a grant-making foundation, so I knew how to write a good grant proposal. So I started by writing a lot of grant proposals, getting my first direct mail appeal out the door, getting the organization’s first website up and running, and I really thought that I had all the bases covered. And then our first gift came in. And I remember thinking, “I have to write a thank you letter.”

And, of course, I did. And then I sent it out. And to be honest with you, I didn’t think a whole lot more about it, but I can tell you that my first thank you letter probably looked a lot like this. And this comes from a fundraiser in the UK. I think it was Damien O’Brien, but he used it in a presentation and I just loved it. But it’s a thank you letter to Granny thanking her for her pair of socks as a Christmas gift. And you could see that you wouldn’t really write to your grandmother or your mother like this. Pretty stiff and formal and just laden with jargon.

But to be honest with you, I didn’t know any better. And it took me years to get smart about thank you letters. And I have to tell you that now whenever I start a new campaign for a client, I take a cue from Stephen Covey and I begin with the end in mind. One of the very, very best tips that I can give our listeners today is to write your thank you letter first before you write that appeal, before you write your email campaign. Write your thank you first. It’s a great trick because it gets you in the gratitude mindset before you start writing.

So why should you even care about your thank you letters anyway? Well, I’m kind of gathering because you’re here on Bloomerang that you know that donor attrition is a real problem in our sector. But if you think about it, if you can retain just 10% more of your supporters, you can increase their lifetime value by 200%. Nonprofits today on average lose 70% of their donors after that first gift.

And here’s what’s really cool. Your thank you letters, clearly they’re not the be-all, end-all of your organization’s donor retention program. But they are definitely the easiest place to start.

So what do your donors need to know? According to donor retention expert Penelope Burk, who has done tons and tons and tons of research, all donors really need to know that the gift was received and you were pleased to get it. These together are important. That the gift was set to work as intended and as a project or program to which the gift was directed having the desired effect.

Now a receipt doesn’t really do it for me, and it probably doesn’t do it for your donors either. And one thing I want you to keep in mind, too, is one of the best ways to think like a donor is to be a donor and to really pay attention to what you receive when you make a gift. Pay attention to how something makes you feel. I remember, too, that the best fundraisers know that their job is to inspire and delight.

So let’s get started learning how to create thank you’s that do inspire and delight your donors. And there’s a lot of ways aside from the standard thank you letter. And the first thing that you need to know actually before you start writing, a study by a UK firm and Vale found that thank you calls actually reduce donor attrition by a full third. And in his new book “Retention Fundraising,” it’s not actually new anymore, “The Art and Science of Keeping your Donors for Life,” Roger Craver says, “Overall, donors who have been phoned, for one reason or another, it really doesn’t even seem to matter, the retention rate is 15% higher than most who haven’t been contacted.

So the smartest fundraisers, and that’s all of you here on the line are figuring out a way to make it happen. Now I want to share with you a little story. Gosh, I guess it’s been since March. I’d been running this mystery shopping experiment, where I’d been making two online gifts a week and tracking what happens after. Would you believe I had never ever received a thank you call in response to a gift?

And then it happened. I made a reoccurring gift to Brittany’s Hope Foundation. Actually, come to think of it, it was not a re-occurring gift. It was the one time gift at that point. I’ve since become a reoccurring donor. I got a thank you call 15 minutes later from their executive director. I got to tell you guys this was a $10 gift. A $10 gift and I got a thank you call from their executive director 15 minutes later.

I can’t even tell you how it made me feel. I just felt fantastic. She told me a little bit about the organization and she told me about the children and how they got started. And the interesting thing is their executive director is also an orphan, who was adopted by the Brittany’s Hope’s family years and years ago. And I actually was curious about the process, so I gave her a call back a couple of weeks later to find out how exactly she does it. And she’s super, super busy just like you guys. They have a tiny, tiny staff. I think three or four people. And she said, and they’re running this organization, little organization with a huge mission.

So I asked her, “Well, how do you do it?” Mai-Lynn is her name and she said, she just said, making our donors feel loved and appreciated is a top priority. And she and the little staff, I think it’s three, it might be up to five people now, they put the procedures in place to make it happen. She says, “It’s our procedure as well as our mission to acknowledge and thank donors appropriately. We started making the calls last year, and it doesn’t matter if you donate $1 or $5. Our job is to thank appropriately, and make it a point to reconnect a few months later.”

So figure out a way to make those donor calls happen. One of my favorite ways is to just create a daily habit. So now we’re going to go on, and I don’t know how many of you have actually downloaded the thank you letter template from Bloomerang. But we’re basically going to start out by going over the anatomy of a thank you letter and why certain points are pretty important.

Number one, you really want to get your thank you letters out fast. And within 48 hours is preferred. And I always remember a friend of mine told me this one, he’s a marketing consultant, “When your dog has an accident on your living room rug, it doesn’t help to rub his nose in it two or three hours later. He really doesn’t have a clue.” You want to get it out fast while the gift is still fresh in their mind. I’ve actually gotten thank you letters so far after the gift that I forgot that I made the gift. So think, too, about what systems can you put into place to ensure promptness? What is going to work for your organization to get those letters out fast?

Get your data right, and that means correct spelling, knowing how your donors want to be addressed. I remember working at one organization where I was the fifth development director in three years. And I remember someone calling in, she had just gotten the newsletter, and she called in to say thank you, she loved the newsletter. But she said, “My husband’s been dead for three years and you still have his name, and I called. This is the third time I’ve called you.” You really need to get that data right.

So letter personalize. In this day and age, there is no excuse for a dear friend letter. I’m not even crazy about the dear friend letters, the acquisition letters. I think if you got their name on the envelope, then you should address them by name.

Here’s a few catchy openings, instead of the usual jargon that we have. I don’t know about you but I think the biggest problem in non-profit communications is jargon. You are really excited to get that gift. You’re a treasure to us all. I love that one. How does that make you feel? You know what? It makes me feel really inspired.

Here’s another point, too. Show your donors that you know them. You reference their loyalty. It’s also a nice time for some handwritten notes. They have been donating for seven, eight years.

So you need to thank them for something specific. You should also include the gift amount. Is it a capital campaign? Is it a membership renewal? Is it an in-memoriam gift? Is it a bequest gift? What kind of gift is it?

And thinking of the in-memoriam gift, if it’s okay then I would really like to share another story. This is a personal story to me. Right after my youngest daughter, who is now 22, and we were just, Steven and I were just talking about her, right after she was born, tragedy struck. And one of my best friends lost her seven-year old son to pediatric cancer. And nothing can really prepare you for the loss of a child. It’s just unfathomable for the parent. It’s also hard for the friends and family members, too, because you don’t know what to do.

And I still remember that, and I still feel bad because I had had a difficult birth and recovery and I actually couldn’t fly out to the funeral. And I sent flowers. And I spent hours on the phone with my friend. When she became involved with a charity dedicated to fighting this particular form of cancer, I became a donor. And I gave every single year. And later on, when I went to work for the Grant Making Foundation, I was so proud that I could actually be a major donor because one of our benefits was the opportunity to make one or two large gifts a year.

So every year I make that gift in Michael’s memory. And what I got back in return was a pretty standard perfunctory thank you letter, the kind we’re all pretty much used to. My friend, on the other hand, she never let me forget what I was doing in her son’s memory. She was so grateful. And over the years she organized so many events for this organization.

And after I left the foundation, I continued to give in Michael’s name. And there were times I never got so much as an acknowledgement. So years later when she told me, my friend told me that she herself was no longer supporting the charity after years of generally shabby, shabby treatment. She ended close to 20 years of support to this organization.

It’s a topic for another presentation, but I really, really believed in my heart that not being donor-focused affects not only your donors but your entire organization. Excuse me.

So how are you showing impact? This is when you let your donors know exactly how they’re making a very, very real difference. One way that I figured out that helps me, and it might help you and I can actually give Steven the link to download this, is a little exercise from Andrea Kihlstedt and Andy Robinson called Train Your Board, and it’s called six-word story exercise. And it really teaches you how to share a story very succinctly. It’s not really to write a great support story, but six minutes, most people can come up with a pretty good one. And I think it really helps with this particular aspect of your letter.

Now do you include a live contact that your donors can reach out to? This is something that Penelope Burk’s research came up with. You should always include someone in your office. Chances are you will not have anyone actually reaching out, but you do want to include a contact person.

Let your donors know what to expect in terms of the communication. Are they going to be receiving your monthly print newsletter? Is a donor welcome kit in the mail? Let them know.

And do feature a real live signature, not one of those stamped things. And please don’t send a postcard. Remember, too, that your you is more important than we and our. Other tips you might want to mention in the letter, simple call to action. Keep the letter short. Believe it or not, you can do that, three to four paragraph. Plus a PS, add the required tax deductible language, share with them all that your gift makes possible. Remember to say thank you more than once in your letter. Use spell check. I think one of the best tips on writing to be read is to print the letter and read it aloud word for word because you always want to write like you talk.

So what about monthly donors? I am a monthly donor to quite a few organizations. And it’s interesting the way that you actually do fall off the communications calendar once you become a monthly donor. These people have given you . . . they made the ultimate commitment. They’re giving you a gift every month. I actually asked donor retention expert Lisa Sargent for her advice on stewarding monthly donors. And this is what she said in terms of some best practices. “Basically don’t stop communicating and you might read this as asking, but when donors communicate to monthly giving, somehow they enter this sort of donor communications wasteland.”

She says that one organization they were actually taken off all mailing list for fear that a mutiny would follow when in fact the opposite is true because these people have already shown a commitment. And regular well-crafted asks have been shown to increase engagement. So don’t stop asking. And just steward your sustainers, you should actually continue to keep sending regular appeals.

She gives an example. Let’s say you have a monthly giver in your organization has an emergency. As one of your most committed supporters, I’d welcome a chance to help out, but if you don’t give me that chance, you won’t get the gift. You should also offer the chance to upgrade your monthly giving amount, and don’t forget to bequest appeals.

Just send them special versions of your regular communications. One of my clients encloses a one-sheet note from the president, especially from monthlies and majors along with the quarterly newsletter. You can repurpose, repurpose, repurpose, repurpose a lot. One thing that I used to do, and this is kind of off-topic, but I actually used, because I had come from a foundation background, I knew what a pain in the ass, pardon my language, was to get dumped into some non-profit’s communication stream and just get all this stuff that had to be filed.

So what I would do instead would be to create a special letter, a live letter that went out periodically to foundations, thanking them and updating them on what was going on. And they basically used a lot of the copy that I had used from newsletters in this letter. But it was a more personal approach.

Do not include . . . and you know what? I think this was actually part of the whole thank you letter thing, and it got messed up, but that was part of the thank you letter. Don’t include an ask in your thank you letter. And this is debated whether or not you should include a remittance envelope in your thank you letter.

And Lisa and I have had this argument for years, along with a couple of other big consultants, because the research says that you can, that you should include a remittance envelope in your thank you letter. I don’t think you should. But you have to test. You have to test and you have to work with your own donors. And I would definitely say do not include a remittance envelope with your first thank you to brand new donors. But if you’ve got loyal donors, and I think it’s actually a courtesy to include a gift, an envelope for their next gift.

Let me see where I’m at. I don’t know about you guys, but I just love examples. It really helps to see what others are doing. Not to copy, please do not copy, but just to get inspiration. That’s kind of the thinking behind my weekly features. I got two excellent three weekly features, Power of Storytelling, what’s in my inbox and what’s in my mail box, and a lot of times we highlight donor thank you’s.

So let’s take a look right now. And we’re actually looking at some of my high points to the donor. This one came from New York City Anti-Violence Project, and it has so many great takeaways. I love the personal handwritten note from Sarah. This was actually a birthday gift. I think she had done one of the birthday things on Facebook, showing exactly what my gift makes possible. You can see right in there. And the PS, the follow on Twitter is great. You see where they’ve got the IRS language down at the bottom. I’ve done it in really tiny fonts, like 8 to 10 points. This is a terrific, terrific letter.

Practice really makes perfect, and I think everyone by now is familiar with the website SOFII which is a showcase of best practices. Lisa Sargent has a thank you letter clinic over there, which has tons of terrific before and after examples. The more you say thank you, the better you’re going to get at it.

So what if you’re not a writer? I was having this conversation the other day with one of my colleagues. When I started out in a non-profit fundraising back in 2000, there wasn’t a lot of information out there online. There really wasn’t. You had to search. You had to go live trainings. And now we are definitely, definitely in information overload. There is so much out there. There are so many do’s and don’ts that it’s easy to get paralyzed. It’s easy to get intimidated.

And one of the first things I want to tell you is to please just get it out there, make a commitment. Get it out there. And these are some of the ways that I loved as a donor. One of my very first Simple Development Systems members was, this was back when this was a pilot program, was Appleseed Ministry. And I sponsored one of their children. This is Diana, a young girl that I sponsored. And one day I went to the mail and there was this box. I had no idea what it was. And there was this handwritten note from Diana, several photographs, and a starfish with a story about the importance of just saving one. It was absolutely beautiful.

Another handwritten note, this one is from a client of Living Yoga, and I noticed that several of you have actually been asking about sending the same thank you letter every month for monthly givers. And that’s not really necessary, but this is a great example. I’m a monthly giver to Living Yoga. This is an interesting organization. I think they’re out in Oregon. They bring the power of yoga to incarcerated individuals. And a fascinating mission. They do so much good, and every month I actually get a handwritten note from one of their clients along with, see that little Post-It from their executive director? I love this idea.

This is another organization that I’m a monthly donor to, and I got this terrific piece, One Justice. They are actually also a Simple Development Systems member. They provide legal services to those who can least afford it. And I recently upped my monthly gift after I received this on the mail. Here they are, another best practice from One Justice. They directed their donors to this wonderful thank you video, and you can find lots of those online now.

Here’s another one that I’ve yet to have anyone actually take me up on. Dare to experiment and try something different. This is a suggestion I posted on a SOFII blog article a few years ago entitled “Loving Your Donors.” To my knowledge, no one has implemented it, but sending little free gifts, not free, but little inexpensive gifts. And this is just an example of something you might do.

So what about emails? First of all, organizations in particular, a lot of times when you make a donation, you fall into another one of those. Even if you are using PayPal as your payment processor, you can still create those backend systems. It just takes tweaking. A lot of times organizations or individuals think that once they have selected a payment processor, or once they’ve selected a payment processor, they’re done. And you are not done. You have to keep tweaking. You have to keep going through those processes yourself to make sure that they were they need to be.

And believe me, I know that it can be tough and it can take time. But you’ve got to create those processes for online gifts so that your donors receive a thank you immediately following.

And that email really should not sound like a receipt. When this one landed in my inbox, it looked like I had made a donation to Network for Good. And to be perfectly, perfectly frank with you, I have had that experience with a number of organizations using Network for Good. It’s not necessarily Network for Good’s problem. You really just have to tweak the back end.

So when I share this email thank you from Merchant’s Quay of Ireland, and by the way, Merchant’s Quay is a small, small organization, and they were using PayPal to accept their donations. Several of my readers went to work immediately rewriting their own email thank you’s. I just love this. I’m going to give you just a second to read this.

And when you’re making out your communication schedule for the year, for the next six months, for the next three months, factor in thank you just because. I just got this one yesterday, and I absolutely adore this. You notice that there’s no call to action on this. No go watch our video. Not even a donate button. This is just pure and simple gratitude, and I love it.

Lean in, love anyway and remake the world. And I got to tell you Preemptive Love Coalition, as a donor, it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Just fabulous. I would urge everyone to go over and make a gift just to see what they do. Another organization that’s great to see what they do is Donors Choose.

When you’re looking at your thank you letters and your thank you emails, think too, about how you’re thanking and welcoming new prospects to your organization. This is a killer, killer opportunity that I don’t see very many organizations taking advantage of. Your online subscribers, the people who subscribe to receive regular communications from you, they’re really taking a chance. I think when somebody signs up for your e-news . . . everybody’s inbox is so, so crowded. And they’re really kind of given you a gift by letting you come into their email box.

So think about how you’re thanking and welcoming your new prospects to your organization. And rather than implementing the standard email auto responder that someone gets for signing up for your e-news that’s actually included with most of the programs like Constant Contact and all those, rewrite your thank you letter. And better yet, do what Coalition for Sonora Desert Protection did and create a welcome series. Your welcome series is terrific. I would urge everyone to go up and sign up for it because it’s really, really terrific, and they’re a tiny organization. They’re doing a great job with their emails.

What you essentially want to create for your organization are thank you’s for every single possible gift occurrence before they occur. Thank you’s for foundation grants, for in kind gifts, for board member gifts, for staff gifts, for in-memoriam gifts, for every single campaign.

Here’s the picture. You pay particular attention to how you’re thanking your new donors. So I think we already said it, but nonprofits today lose on average 70% of their donors after their first gift. So in addition to your thank you letter and your phone call, what you absolutely should be doing is taking advantage of what I call the honeymoon period. Actually that’s what marketers call the honeymoon period when your new donors . . . they may have just began testing the waters. Create a plan for your new donors, one that actually factors in the next ask within the first six to eight weeks.

Could you follow up your thank you letter with a new donor welcome package that follows two or three weeks later, one that has a new ask or better yet, an invitation to join your organization’s monthly giving program. Keep in mind this isn’t your thank you letter. They’ve already received their thank you letter. This is a welcome kit. These are a couple that I’ve highlighted here that are from smaller organizations. One is from Friends of the Blueridge Parkway. And as I recall, this came in a really tiny envelope, an undersized envelope but you get a small card in. And it came with a welcome letter, a sticker, and this wonderful little stewardship pocket guide.

A lot of times there’s ways that you can repurpose materials that you already have and prop them in your welcome kit. I remember in my very first job I had plain old manila folders and just repurposed material I already had. Speaking of folders, this is what I received from Brittany’s Hope, and this was actually, I got a call, I got that call. I got the thank you letter. Keep in mind, you really have to keep in mind that this is a $10 donation.

So I got the call, got the thank you letter, and then I got this kit. And this was repurposed materials. They’ve got their remembering Brittany, who was the namesake for the organization. Great founder’s piece. Couple of brochures and a letter in a manila envelope. I tell you I am now a sponsor, I’m a $35 a month monthly donor to Brittany’s Hope, and part of it was the way they treated me because I can’t honestly tell you that this is the type of charity I generally support, although I love their good works.

I am going to close with this quote from Piglet that I just happen to love. What I have found that’s really, really helpful is to get everyone involved in the gratitude process from your program staff to your board members, everybody.

We have some resources for you. These are a few of my favorite books, “Retention Fundraising” from Roger Craver. “Keep your Donors” from Tom Ahern and Simone. “Donor-centered Fundraising” obviously from Penelope Burk. A SOFII “Thank you Letter Clinic.” And then I’ve actually got something I can give the link to as a donor love toolkit, which is something I put together last year that’s got an interview with Lisa Sargent and also has different ways that my subscribers have been doing.

We also offer a course in setting up your stewardship. This is called “The Power of Thank You” and we run that every year usually in the spring.

So wow. Thanks for having me today. It looks like we have a lot of questions. Steven, are you still there? I’m just wondering if I should just go ahead.

Steven: I am. We do have a lot of questions. And I can just roll through them and ask them off you if that’s okay with you.

Pamela: Sure.

Steven: So a great presentation, Pamela, so thanks, before we move on, thanks to all of you for hanging out and listening to it as well. I know we’ve got a lot of questions, and we’ll try to get to as many as possible. Pamela, we got a lot of questions about two specific topics. One is phone calls, and one is monthly giving. So I thought I would stick with phone calls to get started. You know I’m a big phone call guy. I tell people call your donors. Couple of people have said though, hey, we don’t have time to call everyone. We don’t have the manpower. What do you say to those folks who don’t have the actual bandwidth to call everyone. Who should they call? Should they get volunteers? What should they do to make those phone calls actually happen?

Pamela: It depends. It depends on what kind of systems you personally have going. I know that with Brittany’s Hope that they were . . . they have a super techy guy there, and they were using Salesforce. And somehow their ED would literally get binged every time a new donor came in. And so she would just, her practice was to just, whatever she was doing, to stop and make that phone call. I do think calling your first-time donors is the most important. For years now, I’ve been talking about making it . . . you have to prioritize. You have to make it a priority. And I would say set aside anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes every day.

And I shouldn’t actually share this, but maybe it’s okay. I’ve been saying this for how many years about the phone call. And then it occurred to me about four or five months ago that, hey, Pam, you really haven’t been putting your money where your mouth is. I actually did use to do this when I worked in the field, but I started calling people who had taken my classes. And my assistant would put together a list of five people every day, and I would call them and thank them for registering, especially if they were brand new to me. I had to tell you, I’ve already seen a 37% increase in conversion, people that are buying again.

So it’s interesting how a lot of business perspective translates. You know what I’m saying? You have to make it a priority.

Steven: I do.

Pamela: You are going to get a lot of voicemails, a lot of voicemails. All you do is say thank you.

Steven: Yeah, that was going to be my next question, Pam, was, is voicemail just as good? Should you leave voicemails? Should you try and call back until you get the person on the phone live or is voicemail just as good?

Pamela: Oh no. Absolutely leave a voicemail. Just let them know that you were glad to receive their gift. You really appreciated it. If they have any questions, they can call you back. I think I have a little script somewhere on my site. I can send it to you if you’d like.

Steven: Cool. All right, so how about monthly gifts, Pamela. So a lot of people want to know exactly what should be sent. Should you send 12 receipts every month and then do an additional thank you, and then pile something on? Should you do something quarterly? Should you do nothing at all?

I actually got into a really interesting discussion yesterday with a board member, who did not want to send any acknowledgements for monthly gifts because he thought that it would remind the donor that they are giving and thus increase the chances that they would cancel.

Pamela: Oh no. Are you kidding me? I’m trying to think. I showed the example from Living Yoga, and I really loved that. I don’t know if Michael sends something every month, but that little handwritten note from the client, with the sticky from him, that’s just a great reminder. And then also I got to tell you, I also have my gift to them. They also keep me on the regular communication schedule, I get their regular appeals. You have to find out what works for you and what works for your donors.

Everybody wants a one-sized fits all, but definitely I don’t think a receipt every month does it. Several of the organizations that I give monthly to, they do give me a year-end’s receipt. And that works fine for me. And then they keep on the regular communications. They reach out. Brittany’s Hope, I still get a phone call from their executive director periodically to update me on what’s going on.

Believe it or not, the one example that I showed first, Appleseed Ministry, Brooke reaches out to me on Facebook periodically. She’ll see that I’m on Facebook, and she messages me to let me know how Diana is doing.

Steven: Well, that brings up an interesting point. What about the multi-channel step? So what if you get a gift online? Should you automatically acknowledge that gift online through email or should you send a physical letter or phone call? How do you decide the channel that you send the acknowledgement through? A couple of people asked about that.

Pamela: All three. Is this the first time gift? All three. All three. You definitely want them to get an instant thank you because when you make an online gift, when you do anything online, you know there’s always that fear that did it go through? Did they receive my gift? Make sure they get an instant thank you.

There’s an interesting question from Terry. You mind if I answer it?

Steven: Oh yeah. Go for it. I just saw that come in, too.

Pamela: Terry writes, “Who should make the first phone call? Does it have to be a higher up, or can it be any member of the staff?” I think the most important thing is to get it out fast. And I think whoever is best equipped to make that first phone call. It’s awesome to have board members make phone calls. It’s awesome to get board members involved in this process because to my mind it’s the best way to introduce them to fundraising.

One of my earliest clients was an organization that was international in scope. And so they didn’t . . . their board did not meet that often because they had to fly in from all over the country. And what I had them do the first time I met them was to write thank you notes, handwritten thank you notes. And we just set aside 20 minutes for them to write notes.

And it was huge to their organization because some people were getting handwritten thank you notes from bishops, which was a really big deal. And they actually called to say thank you for the thank you. One organization I worked at, I would send out call lists to board members so that each board member might be responsible for calling say, five to ten donors a week.

Steven: Well, Pamela, a couple people have asked about creating that call through of thanking. So let’s say you’re a fundraiser. You’re listening to this presentation. And you want to do all these things you’re suggesting. How do you actually convince the people that may be getting in your way, who maybe their focused on acquisition or they just don’t think that it’s valuable. How do you actually begin to have that conversation to convince them?

Pamela: What do you think? What would be your first response? I’m just curious.

Steven: For me, I would always go back to the retention. If we’re not retaining our donors, there’s got to be something wrong. Add all the research shows that most people aren’t retained because the gifts aren’t acknowledged well. So if you can point to them and say, hey, our retention rates are low. We got to do something different. I think that’s the most compelling thing.

Pamela: Yeah, exactly. Our focus is always on size, the size of the gift, and you have to always keep in mind that that person that’s making that $10 gift, that $25 gift, that $50 first time gift, they’re testing the waters. I think I told you the story. Well, our audience hasn’t heard this, this happened about a year ago, year or so ago.

Everybody is familiar with HONY, Humans of New York on Facebook. I just love HONY. And he had one of his posts about this gentleman who was an ex-con, who was trying to put his life back together in New York City.

And one of the people commenting mentioned this organization in New York. That’s exactly what they did, a non-profit organization, and they said this was a great organization. They can help him. And I looked up the organization. And I was particularly taken with it, too, because I don’t think I’ve ever told you this, but I worked in politics for 10 years, and I worked for the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee on Corrections. Well, I got the distinction of having visited every single prison in Michigan. And I have a real soft spot in my heart for anyone, any organization that’s working with ex-cons, who was working with the incarcerated.

So I went and I kind of impulsively became a monthly donor to this organization. Believe it or not, they had a monthly giving program. It was only $10 a month, but that’s $120 a year, and I think if you got $120 check out of the blue, you would be kind of tickled. And never heard back. Never heard anything from this organization.

And finally I called up the fellow just to find out what was going on. I talked to their executive director, and he was a lovely guy. And he told me that as a result of the HONY post, they got quite a few new donations. One of them was a $500 gift from a gentleman out in California. Brand new donor.

And I said to this fellow, I said, “Well, what did you do?” And he seemed kind of surprised. And he said, “Well, we sent him a thank you email.” An email. And I said, “And what else?” And he said, “Well, that’s it.” He never heard back from the guy. He didn’t call. Wouldn’t you be curious why this fellow out in California had made an out-of-the-blue $500 gift? Find out why your donors give. It’s the most important thing.

Steven: Well, Pamela, that may be a good place to end it there. We’re about out of time and I want to make sure people get off the line in case they haven’t eaten lunch. So Pamela, I’ll give you the last word to tell folks where they can get in touch with you, where they can subscribe to your newsletter, all that good stuff. How can people find you?

Pamela: Oh I don’t know if I put a slide in to be honest with you. Let me see. These are your resources. You know what? I can send those to you, but you can always find me at You can find me at . . . thank you, Sarah. Thank you for coming today. You can reach me, you can find me at What else do I have? I have an old site called Pamela’s Grant Writing.

But thanks so much for coming today.

Steven: Well, definitely . . .

Pamela: I’m absolutely tickled that so many people showed up. I know it’s a crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy time. And if you have any questions at all, you can always reach out to me at That’s my email address. And I hope you guys have gotten something.

Steven: We’ll link to all that. Yeah, definitely. I did, too. I love these examples. Some of these examples I haven’t seen either, so they’re great. Pamela, thank you for joining us. Thank you for taking the hour or so out of your day as well. And thanks everyone for hanging out with us. I’m going to send out the recording, the slides, as well as that thank you letter template in case you didn’t grab it off the chat.

So definitely look for an email from me a little later on this afternoon. We’ve got some good resources on our website you can check out. We do these webinars just about every week. I’ve actually taken next week off but we are back 15 days from now, Thursday the 19th. I should say Thursday, not Wednesday. I’m so sorry about that. But Thursday the 19th. Rachel Muir from Pursuant is going to join us.

Pamela: Oh she’s cool.

Steven: And talk about how to get those . . . oh, she’s the best. She’s going to talk about how to help your board members become better fundraisers. So that’ll be timely for year-end. So check that out. We’ve got a couple other presentations that you can also register for. Just click our webinar page right on our website. We’d love to see you again in a couple of weeks and later on.

It’s just about 2:00, so we’ll end it there. Have a great rest of your day. Look for an email from me a little later this afternoon, and we’ll see you again hopefully soon. So have a great rest of your day and we’ll see you again sometime. Bye now.

Pamela: Thanks so much.

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.