Avoid a Big Misstep Now to Raise More Money in 2018

Fundraising can be complex and challenging. We need to consider strategies, tactics, technology, staffing, budget, and so much more.

What if I could help you cut through all of the clutter, so you can avoid a big misstep now and raise more money in 2018?

Well, here you go:

If you want to raise more money, do not fail to send a proper thank-you letter.

It’s pretty simple, right? I think it is. Unfortunately, so many nonprofit organizations mess up this important step in the development process either by not sending a thank-you letter at all or by simply dashing off a letter with little thought. While professional fundraisers expend considerable effort to master the complexities of the fundraising process, many stumble when it comes to something as simple as the thank-you. Don’t be one of those fundraisers.

The thank-you letter is an essential part of a sound stewardship program. Every donor should receive a thank-you communication. It amazes me that some organizations still refuse to send thank-you letters to lower-level donors. Sending a simple receipt is not the same as a thank you.

A wise person once observed that the most important communication a donor will receive from you is the first thank you after the first gift. At that point, many donors will decide whether to ever make another gift to your organization.

So, what are the three essential principles of a great thank-you letter?

1. Immediacy.

The first rule of effective thank-you letters is: Be sure to send them. The corollary is: Be sure to send them immediately, within three to seven days of the gift coming in. If you delay, donors will likely think that you do not need their money or that you do not truly appreciate them. Wise organizations that don’t have the infrastructure to do this will outsource the gift acknowledgment process recognizing that it’s a worthwhile investment.

2. Caring.

Let your donors know you care. You can do this by sending a thank-you letter out on a timely basis. In addition, make sure you spell the donor’s name correctly, acknowledge the amount received, encourage the donor to contact you with any comments or questions, include an appropriate gift receipt and tax information. If your organization hosts events or programs for the public (i.e., a theater company that has a new stage show about to open), take the opportunity to share this information with your donor. These are just some of the things you can do to show you care.

You should also remember that a thank-you letter is not another solicitation piece. So, don’t appear ungrateful by asking for more money or enclosing a gift envelope. I know this is a controversial issue so, for more about this, read “Can a Thank-You Letter Contain an Ask?”

3. Meaningfulness.

Don’t just send a simple thank-you letter that shows you didn’t spend much time thinking about it or drafting it. One way to force yourself to be a bit creative when writing a thank-you letter is to not use the words “thank you” in the first sentence. This prohibition will slow you down and force you to be more thoughtful when writing the letter.

Another tip is to remind donors of the impact their gifts will have. Better yet, tell them how their gift is already being put to good use.

Whenever possible, hand sign the thank-you letters. Even better, hand sign the letters and write a short P.S. This will go a surprisingly long way in building a meaningful relationship with the donor.

For her book Donor Centered Fundraising, Penelope Burk reviewed hundreds of thank-you letters. Based on her analysis, she outlined 20 attributes of great thank-you letters. I felt so strongly about her list that I cited it in my own book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

  1. The letter is a real letter, not a pre-printed card.
  2. It is personally addressed.
  3. It has a personal salutation (no “Dear Donor” or “Dear Friend”).
  4. It is personally signed.
  5. It is personally signed by someone from the highest ranks of the organization.
  6. It makes specific reference to the intended use of the funds.
  7. It indicates approximately when the donor will receive an update on the program being funded.
  8. It includes the name and phone number of a staff person whom the donor can contact at any time or an invitation to contact the letter writer directly.
  9. It does not ask for another gift.
  10. It does not ask the donor to do anything (like complete an enclosed survey, for example).
  11. It acknowledges the donor’s past giving, where applicable.
  12. It contains no spelling or grammatical errors.
  13. It has an overall “can do,” positive tone as opposed to a handwringing one.
  14. It communicates the excitement, gratitude, and inner warmth of the writer.
  15. It grabs the reader’s attention in the opening sentence.
  16. It speaks directly to the donor.
  17. It does not continue to “sell.”
  18. It is concise—no more than two short paragraphs.
  19. It is received by the donor promptly.
  20. Plus, in some circumstances, the letter is handwritten.

Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog by Kivi Leroux Miller contains additional tips for writing great thank-you letters. She states:

Sending out really good thank you letters is an incredibly savvy marketing strategy, simply because so many other nonprofits are doing it so badly. It’s an easy way to stand out. A very easy way.”

Do you need some inspiration as you prepare to write your next thank-you letter? The Donor Relations Guru website, by Lynne Wester, has hundreds of acknowledgement letters for you to review at no charge. The letters are categorized and available for download. However, don’t simply copy one of the letters; instead, be inspired and personalize it for your organization. The website is a fantastic resource.

Now, here’s a bit of bad news. Once you’ve written and sent a stellar thank-you letter, you’re not done. As a general rule, you should look for seven opportunities to thank each donor. For more about this concept along with some useful ideas about how you can thank each donor seven times, read: “Get More Repeat Gifts: The Rule of 7 Thank Yous.” For even more tips about how to thank donors seven times, and to discover what one mega-donor has to say about expressions of gratitude, read “Stewardship: More than a Thank-You.”

Properly thanking donors immediately, showing them you care and that you appreciate them, and providing them with meaningful information requires some real effort. However, it’s an investment that will result in greater donor retention and more gift upgrades. In short, effectively thanking donors will increase your fundraising results in 2018.

In keeping with the theme of this post, I thank you for taking the time to read it and, if you’re so inclined, sharing it with others.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

4 Responses to “Avoid a Big Misstep Now to Raise More Money in 2018”

  1. Michael,

    As you know from our past conversations, thanking a donor promptly and well is the most important thing a development pro can do to build a prosperous and lasting relationship with a donor. My biggest problem is handwriting the Thank You. My cursive writing skills are so bad you need a pharmacist to read it to you. Lol. However, sharing that info with my donors in the typed notes actually has endeared me with them for better relationships.

    I hope you are enjoying your holiday week. Say hi to your lovely wife for me.

    Richard Freedlund

    • Richard, thank you for sharing your thoughts. When I was writing my post, I remembered your comments about your parents receiving address labels they couldn’t use because of spelling errors. Because of that, I included the need to spell a donor’s name correctly in thank-you letters.

      Like with you, my handwriting is terrible. At least I have an excuse. My mother recently told me that I was originally a lefty, and she trained me to be a righty prior to my schooling. Sigh. Nevertheless, I continue to send handwritten notes. However, I use notecards with my name printed on them so that recipients will at least know who sent the note even if they can’t actually read the note.

      My wife and I hope that you and yours have a joyous holiday season.


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