Forget Flattery. It’s Gratitude That Will Get You Everywhere

It is surprising to me that lots of nonprofits still overlook the importance of saying thank you. There really is no excuse for snubbing the people who are donating to your mission. They have taken the time to track you down, choose your mission over many others, navigate the ways you offer for giving, select their donation level, and pull the trigger. With the busy pace that most people are living these days, that alone is a compliment to the work you are doing. There are innumerable causes for your donor to choose from. They make it easier to give than you do. Their mission resonates with your donor. They keep your donor up to date on the impact of their giving. They thank you donor early and often. Still, she chose to give to your organization. What are you going to do to keep her?

Gratitude plays a key role in donor retention. Here are four things to make your donor gratitude shine.

  1. Say Thanks Quickly

It used to be that the rule of thumb for thanking donors was to get the acknowledgement letter in the mail within 48 hours of the gift. Then online donations gave us instant access to donor information, and email made it super easy to send a super fast thank you.

There are organizations that have systems set up for their executive director to call a donor immediately after an online gift is made. People are getting personal emails or phone calls within 15 minutes of making a gift. How are you doing when it comes to thanking people quickly? Maybe it isn’t possible in your organization to have the donor get a call within 15 minutes, but how about a personalized email within one business day? The more you can get into cutting edge thanking, the more you will place yourself as the preferred organization for your donor’s attention and dollars.

  1. Pick Up the Phone

We know that donors who receive thank you phone calls are not only more likely to give again, but they are also likely to give more the second time around. In this age of dropping donor retention, you should be using every tool you have to keep people engaged. Something as low-cost and easy as a thank you phone call not only conveys gratitude to your donor, it has the potential to increase her engagement exponentially. It is a chance to ask her opinion on things, to learn which part of your mission she loves the most, and to ask her to get more involved.

A phone call to a donor might take 15 minutes, tops, and it will only be that long if she chooses to talk. This is not an opportunity for you to go on and on about how great your mission it, it is a chance to hear from you donor what she likes about the work you are doing. It is a chance for you to ask straightforward questions and get answers from your donor. Often, though, it is an opportunity for you to leave a thoughtful voice mail for your donor. Do not underestimate the voice mail, my friend. Similar to the handwritten note mentioned below, the kind and brief voicemail shows your donor how much you appreciate her.

  1. Have a Stack of Thank You Notes Ready

Think of how rarely you receive something handwritten in the mail, let alone a thank you note. When you take the time to send it, that small envelope, scrawled handwriting, and first class stamp will stand out among the bills and the flyers for replacement windows that fill your donor’s mailbox. You don’t need to write a novel, just a few lines to tell your donor how much her gift is appreciated. Write a two or three sentence story of an individual who has been helped by your organization. It can be as simple as, “Before Boomer was brought to the animal shelter, he was so badly beaten he almost lost an eye. Now, he is healing and is almost ready for his forever home. Without your help, Boomer might still be out in the cold.”

I have never skimped on personalized, handwritten notes. And I have had people thank me for sending a thank you note. Thank me for thanking them. That alone tells you how unusual it is to receive one of these gems in the mail, and how much you will stand out to your donor when you do this.

  1. Know the Regulations and Send a Letter

Changes in tax law have reduced the number of people who are able to deduct charitable gifts, but that does not mean you do not need to provide appropriate documentation to all of your donors. Donors must provide documentation of each gift they are deducting. Written acknowledgement from your organization is required. If goods or services were provided to the donor in exchange fro their gift, the value of those things must be subtracted from the total gift. Refer to IRS Publication 526 for details on how gifts need to be acknowledged for tax deductibility.

Your state might have its own set of regulations, so make sure you know them and that you are following procedures to give your donors everything they need to keep thorough records of their giving.

The bottom line is, do not make your donor track you down at tax time for this documentation. Build it into your acknowledgment letter and system so you – and your donors – don’t even need to think about it.

Want some help creating a thank you system that will knock their socks off? For the month of January, I’m offering a free 30 minute consultation phone call and 30% off any Fund Development Plan package. Schedule your call here and lock in your discount!

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