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It’s nearly mid-December, which means you have probably just created and sent the best year-end appeal ever! You’re also likely exhausted from all the work. Unfortunately, your annual appeal work is far from over.

The Struggle for Retention Begins the Moment the Gift Arrives

You only have one chance to make a first impression.

This is certainly the case in regards to paving the way for the critical second gift from any first-time or previously lapsed donor. What happens in the next few days after any gift is made determines if a bond is established with the donor and if the stage is set for growing the relationship!

Bloomerang’s Chief Scientist Dr. Adrian Sargeant emphasizes that 2-3 “touches” in the first 90 days after the gift arrives drastically improves the percentage chance of that particular donor being retained.

One of those touch points is almost always the thank you letter.

This should not be handled in a matter of fact manner!

We, as fundraisers, may never have a more open invitation into the postal mailbox or email inbox of a potential donor of immense lifetime value than at this moment in time.

Think about it; the donor fully expects some sort of thank you for the gift made. If it is the first time to give, it DOES NOT make any difference how big or how small! You now have the open invitation to communicate and set the stage to forge a close relationship.

Based upon the above premise, why in the world would any nonprofit then spend far less time on the acknowledgement process, when compared with creating the original appeal communication or the next newsletter or the next event?

Retaining your current donors costs a fraction of the price to obtain new donors! So make sure your thank you letter does the following:

  • is delivered quickly
  • is personalized
  • is segmented based on gift amount / frequency (tips on that here >>)
  • states how the funds will be used
  • communicates how much the donation means to the organization
  • is followed up on within 90 days (try a phone call or handwritten note)
  • makes the donor the hero

Make Your Acknowledgement About Them, Not You

Making the donor the hero of the story begins with not talking about yourself in the acknowledgement. You should be familiar with Tom Ahern’s “You Test.” It is a primary tenet of effective donor communications.

Yes, just count the number of pronouns in the letter that are focused on the donor such as “you” and make sure that number is at least twice as large as the number of them focused on you or your organization such as “we.” This 2-to-1 or larger ratio is a game-changer for any thank you letter. Your letter should also have a reading level between a sixth and eighth-grade level.

Need help? Download this free thank you letter template!

Merely utilizing the basic premise of the “You Test” can radically improve your thank you letters. If you can also add some passion from the person signing the letter, you are well on the path to improving your donor retention.

Even more importantly, the lifetime value of those responding to your year-end appeal will soar!

What is your year-end gift acknowledgement plan? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.
Jay Love