[Dalya's Note: This blog post is by award-winning fundraising copywriter and donor communications specialist Lisa Sargent, who as president of Sargent Communications works as a trusted creative partner to top nonprofits and charities in the US and Ireland.]
“Dear Friend,” the thank you letter began… and it broke my heart. Don’t they know my name? I wondered. (It was on the check I sent them, after all.)
Oh, there were a few hints that this $76 million a year charity thought anything at all of my little $25 gift: they referenced the amount, for one. And noted when it was received. But there was that vaguely unsettling “Member #” in the upper right corner. I was one of more than eight million! I felt like part of an institution, not a fledgling member of a hardworking charity.
Then came the kiss of death: the P.S. upgrade to make me a monthly donor. Mind you, this was an acquisition thank you. The first sentence after “Dear Friend” was “Welcome!” Why pitch an upgrade at this point in our budding relationship? I barely knew them!
The question I’ve always wanted to ask the author of a donation thank you letter like this one is: Do you hit up all your first dates for a monthly commitment? And based on this nifty little trick, how long do your relationships last? And they wonder why donor retention rates are tanking.
Now for the scariest part. This is one of the better letters I’ve received. Why? Because they sent one. Many nonprofits don’t. Or they wait so long to respond that the poor donor has forgotten who they are – and the moment is lost.
If you want to keep more of your donors (and set your nonprofit apart from the pack), the donation thank you letter is a perfect place to start. Next to your fundraising appeals, your donation thank you letter is the most important communication that a donor receives.
First, review your donor acknowledgement function. Give promptness top priority. Send thank yous no more than 48 hours after receipt.
Then gather a sample of every thank you that your organization sends, and do a simple communications audit using the checklist below. In fact, from fixing typos to tweaking tax language, you can make many changes yourself. Practically every nonprofit can do a better job of thanking their donors, and you don’t need a billion-dollar budget to do it.
In the end, you’ll have a well-written, sincere thank you letter that forges an instant connection. It tells your donors, loud and clear: “You matter to us…and your gift makes a difference.” It makes your donors feel appreciated for every heartfelt gift they send and keeps them giving for years to come.
The First 5 Items on the Checklist
1. Is it personalized? (As in “Dear Lisa” vs. “Dear Friend”)
2. Is the gift amount noted?
3. Do you start with something other than “Thank you for your gift of…”? Use an exciting lead.
4. Do you tell the donor when and how they will next hear from you?
5. If this is a repeat gift, do you also thank donor for their past generosity (and indicate all its made possible) and continued contributions/support?