Published on April 6, 2016 by

A thank you letter for EVERY donation? Really?

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A client asked me last week whether you need to send your donors a thank you letter after EVERY donation they send in.

Because the donor admin department doesn’t want to send gift acknowledgements and thank you letters after each gift.

“It’s much more efficient to just send one annual statement at the end of the financial year. We save money and it’s much less hassle.”

So let’s think about this.

If a donor sends you a gift in July…

Or if a donor sends you donations in July, November (for Christmas) and June…

You’re telling me it’s acceptable that she doesn’t get a thank you until almost one year after the donation in July?

This is a classic example of procedures set up to make life easier for the charity.

Instead of procedures set up to serve the donor better and maximise lifetime value.

Let’s say we don’t have research like Adrian Sargeant’s that tells us timely thank yous are one of the 7 drivers of donor loyalty and commitment.

Let’s say we don’t know that poor thanking is one of the top 5 reasons donors stop giving to a charity as per the infographic here.

Just picture this.

You send your best friend interstate a birthday present.

Weeks pass. You get no acknowledgement.

No phone call to say thank you.

No text message saying, “Love the book/ slippers/ eco-friendly bath salts!”

Now you’re wondering, “Did he receive it?”

So you call up to ask.

“Yes, yes, I got it, thanks.”

And what are you thinking?

“How rude – they could at least have told me they got it!”

And that’s exactly what your donors are thinking.

Apart from wondering whether you received their gift, it’s RUDE not to promptly acknowledge a donation and say thank you.

Think about it. You receive gifts on your birthday, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, right?

Do you then send everyone an annual thank you statement on 1 January saying: “Thank you for the stuff you sent me last year. Below is a list of all the things I got from you. I really appreciate it.”

How appreciated do you think your family and friends would feel?

Don’t you think the joy of giving you a gift has been deflated somewhat?

Especially for those who really LOVE giving gifts and went out of their way to get you something special.

Utterly ridiculous, right?

So why do we do this to donors – who have no obligation at all to give to your cause? They give – and give multiple times –because they want to do something good.

Surely this deserves more love and respect than an annual statement?

Even for-profit organisations give you an acknowledgement of your purchase straight after you’ve bought.

How would you feel if Coles or Target or your favourite clothing/ sporting/ hobby shop said to you, “No we only issue tax invoices at the end of the financial year. You’ll get your annual statement with a list of your purchases then.”

How stupid is that? And how angry would you be – especially if it was for a big ticket item like a fridge or TV.

Yet I’ve heard stories of major donors – people giving thousands of dollars – who have to ring up a charity to ask, “Did you receive my gift?”

These donors are not even asking for a thank you. They just want to know you got it!

Processes for donor service… or for the charity?

It’s actually depressing how low a priority a simple thank you has in fundraising.

I think thank yous are so important that I usually include them as part of any direct mail pack I write for no additional cost.

But you know something? Quite a few of my clients do not take me up on this… because their systems or processes are not set up to allow tailored thank you letters.

Like my client, perhaps they only do annual gift acknowledgements. Or they can only do generic thank you letters with the receipts their automated systems spit out. They can’t tailor a thank you to a specific appeal.

Granted, some of the generic thank yous are actually quite good. I get them myself.

They use warm, personal language.

They acknowledge the amount of the gift.

They reinforce how the donor will help the organisation.

They may include a short story of a beneficiary.

They may invite the donor to engage further.

But if you’ve made your third or fourth donation to a charity… and you get exactly the same thank you saying –

“I’d personally like to thank you for …”

“You’ve done an amazing thing by donating to…”

How personalised do you think this really can feel for the donor?

If I had my way, I’d do thank you letters that are as extensive as appeal letters. Perhaps not for every gift… but certainly for every third or fourth one.

I’d include a lovely warm story of a beneficiary helped and saying thank you to the donor.

Or include pictures of happy beneficiaries.

“Oh but then donors complain we’re wasting money!”

I can guarantee you that for every donor that complains, you’ll have many more who are DELIGHTED.

I once did a pack about literacy. I suggested the client send pictures with their thank you letter. The images showed children with their first ever books – provided as a result of the donor’s gift.

I don’t know whether this charity got any complaints about wasting money… but the client told me about the phone calls and notes they got from donors.

“Thank you so much for sending me those beautiful photos!”

If I could, I’d find some way of making the donor feel delight or really special in every thank you letter or gift acknowledgement.

But even if you can’t or won’t do this now… I still say YES.

Yes, you should send a thank you letter to acknowledge EVERY gift your donor makes.

The only exception to this is if the donor specifically asks only to receive an annual statement. The donor should not have to ask for a tax invoice or receipt after every gift. It’s your responsibility – and a matter of courtesy – to do this.

Believe me when I say this will make a difference to the lifetime value of your donors.

End of rant… and thank YOU for reading.

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