When I was a little girl, every year my grandparents would send me a birthday card with a little check in it so I could put it toward a gift I really wanted. The worst part about the gift was that before I was allowed to cash the check, my mother insisted that I write a note to my grandparents, thanking them profusely for the gift and telling them exactly what I was going to do with the money. That indoctrination has stuck with me today and I’m still a big fan of hand-written thank-you notes – both sending and receiving them. And I imagine many nonprofit donors feel the same way.
Nowadays, it’s not that important if the thank-you note is hand-written or typed on your computer with your real pen-on-paper signature, but it is important that you send one to everyone who donates to your nonprofit organization. According to a study conducted last year by Cygnus Applied Research, 65% of first-time donors don’t make a second gift and 80% of those donors report that a simple “thank you” would have convinced them to make a second donation. Last year, the Fundraising Effectiveness Project reported that donors want three things after making a gift: (1) prompt, personalized acknowledgement; (2) confirmation that their gift will be used as intended; and (3) measurable results from one gift before being asked for another.
So, how should you craft effective thank-you letters that will convey to your donors that you truly care about them and that you value the confidence they have in your organization? First of all, make sure you mail the thank-you note or letter promptly after receiving the gift. That means within 48 hours, in my opinion.
Chad Barger, a fundraising consultant who was in a class I taught for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, suggests keeping a stash of thank-you cards and stamped envelopes in your car, briefcase, or handbag. That way, minutes after you meet with a donor or prospective donor, you can write a thank-you note and mail it before you get back to your office or home. Immediate thank-you notes make a big impact.
Thank-you notes should also be personal, warm, casual, and from your heart. Forget repeating your mission statement. Your donors already know your mission. That’s why they donated to your organization in the first place. Show how excited you are to have received this generous gift, regardless of its size. Tell a story by letting the donor know how your organization will use this gift and who or what it will help. If the donor has given to you before, acknowledge how grateful you are for the ongoing support. For thank-you letters typed on your computer, always sign them and add a personal note as a P.S. at the end.
Many organizations use thank-you letters to double as a tax receipt. I recommend keeping the tax receipt separate—send it either as a stand-alone emailed document or include it as an attachment to your letter. Having the thank-you letter serve as a tax receipt diminishes the warmth of what you’re trying to convey in thanking your donor.
And don’t stop thanking your donors after their initial gift. Send ongoing communication to them highlighting your organization’s success and showing them how their support helped to make that happen. Consider sending photos or photo postcards of people benefitting from the work your organization performs, or pictures of volunteers helping the individuals served through your organization. Consider asking the people your organization serves to write notes about how contributions to your organization have personally helped them.
One of the most memorable thank-you notes I’ve received was from a Sonoma Valley High School student who said that my contribution to the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation enabled him to participate in the Engineering Pathway Program. Notes like that make me want to contribute again because I felt a personal connection to the recipient of my modest gift.
While I may not have agreed with everything my mother told me to do as a child, I definitely think mom was right when she made me write those thank-you notes before I could spend my birthday money.
B.J. Bischoff is the owner of Bischoff Performance Improvement Consulting, a Sonoma firm specializing in building the capacity of nonprofit organizations and public sector agencies through strategic planning, board and staff training, fund development, grant writing, and community relations. She is Past President of Impact100 Sonoma and serves as a Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ appointee to the Sonoma County Portfolio of Model Upstream Programs Review Committee. Contact her at [email protected].