“Where have my donors gone… let’s see, did I remember to say thank you?”

Of the individuals who stop giving to your organization, according to Judith Nichols of Pinpointing Affluence Research, only four out of 100 former donors actually move away or die; 15 have decided to make their gifts to other organizations; 15 are unhappy with your organization; 66 think you don’t care about them.

Roy C. Jones, CFRE

Of the individuals who stop giving to your organization, according to Judith Nichols of Pinpointing Affluence Research, only four out of 100 former donors actually move away or die; 15 have decided to make their gifts to other organizations; 15 are unhappy with your organization; 66 think you don’t care about them.

Acknowledgement receipts are so much more than providing a tax receipt to someone who wrote your organization a check.  They are the primary tool for communicating to your supporters that you care about them and appreciate their support. They are critical to building relationships and cultivating affinity with you and your cause.

Even if your organization does not have a system in place to quickly and personally thank donors, don’t rely on a form letter.  Remember, an impersonal form letter is the quickest way to demonstrate to your donors that you do NOT care about them.  The system you deploy must use customization and personalization in a timely fashion to segment your messaging based upon the gift amount.  Remember, how you acknowledge a $1,000 gift should be very different from how you thank a $25, $50 or $100 donor.

I have always recommended having a unique letter for each appeal designation. This insures that your acknowledgement letters are changing every month, sometimes twice a month. The best acknowledgment programs will then have at least three different versions of the same appeal: (1) a version for those regular donors who give under $250; (2) a version for middle donors who give between $250 and $999, and (3) a special version for major donors who give $1,000 or more.

The other thing that is important is that a thank you be mailed within 48 of receiving the gift.  The quicker the response the more likely you are to receive a second gift from the donor… you will even have some folks who will send a check after the thank you letter.  Rest assured, donors are sending you a message for being kind enough to thank them quickly and underscoring that you are spending the funds as they have been designated.

I have seen response rates as high as 30% from thank you mail.  That is right 3 out of every 10 thank you letters you mail could result in send an additional gift.  The average in most cases is about a 15% response rate.

The other thing that you need to do is make sure that the higher the gift the more often you thank the donor.  Of course, all donors say that they do not like being recognized or thanked, but rest assured of one thing… all donors lie.   Everyone likes to be thanked.  You can never thank a donor too much, especially a major donor who gives $1,000+.

There is an old adage in major gift circles that you need to thank every major gift at least seven times. While this may seem intimidating, think about the letters, the calls, the listings, the newsletters and updates and other activities that can, and should, be used to thank donors by the entire staff and volunteer network. 

Here are seven ways you can thank a donor?

  1. A personalized thank you note from the person who solicited the gift.
  2. A personalized thank you from the Chair of the Board or President on behalf of the organization.
  3. A personalized thank you note from the Executive Director or CEO.
  4. A personal telephone within 3 days of the gift having been made from a staff member.
  5. A personal telephone call within 14 days from a member of the board.
  6. An acknowledgement in the newsletter in a section on “Gifts Received.”
  7. Six months later, a follow up report again thanking the donor for the gift and telling the donor what has been accomplished with the contribution.

Want more ideas?
8.   List the donor’s name in the Annual Report among all donors at the same level.
9.   A public display within the organization’s offices and/or at an event.

Those personalized acknowledgement letters, thank you notes and phone calls pay off.  A few years ago I was working for an organization who suddenly decided that they are going to save money by eliminating the postage spent on the acknowledgement program.  They said that all gift acknowledgements would be done online and by email.   This organization processed about 68,000 transactions a year so we are talking about a huge expenditure that they could save.

I immediately ran the reports and discovered one key fact that they had overlooked.  The thank you letters, notes and cards sent to these donors generated an additional $400,000 to the organization.  You say how did I know this?  That is easy, we included a unique reply envelop in every thank you… All we had to do is alert our donation processing department that when a gift came back in this type of envelop it is automatically coded to the acknowledgement program.

Of course, after pointing out that if we stopped mailing thank you letters (with reply envelopes) then this $400,000 revenue stream would disappear, the President quickly (and quietly) rescinded the order to stop the thank you letters.

What are you waiting on?  Start thanking your donors… it means a great deal to them and it will mean a great deal to you and your ministry.


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