Following the Golden Rule, Three Tips for Thanking Donors

I am a big fan of doing “the basics” really well. In my experience, some of the best donor acknowledgements have been the ones that are authentic, genuine, and show gratitude in a personal way. A thank you to a donor doesn’t require the most complex, creative, or innovative idea or method. Sometimes the simplest methods are the most effective. This post will offer three simple tips for an effective donor thank you. In addition to these tips, this post will offer a test you can use to determine if your thank you will be effective or not. Some may think these tips are “too simple.” Even though these tips may be basic, I encourage you to evaluate them based on the test in this post to see if they will be effective in your acknowledgments to donors.

1. Personalize and humanize your thank you

The goal of any donor thank you or acknowledgment is to continue a relationship with the donor. Your relationship with the donor grew when he/she made the contribution so don’t waste the opportunity to continue the relationship with an effective thank you. Thanking donors is about maintaining and continuing to build a relationship.

A relationship is a connection between two people. Therefore, it is important to personalize and humanize your acknowledgements. There are no shortcuts in building relationships with donors. Like any personal relationship, building a relationship with a donor requires engagement and commitment. Show your donors how committed you are to a relationship with them by personalizing your thank you for their contribution.

A simple handwritten thank you note is a perfect way to show your gratitude in a personal way. Sometimes the simplest, but most genuine thank you messages, are the ones that are handwritten. They are great because they add a human touch. A handwritten thank you humanizes the acknowledgment process, which in turn proves the authenticity of the relationship. While simple, handwritten thank you notes are more powerful than you may think. You can also take your personalized donor acknowledgements one step further by making a quick phone call to thank the donor for their contribution.

Your donors know the difference between a template thank you letter and a personalized thank you. If you want to build relationships with donors, a genuine and personalized thank you (like a handwritten note or personal phone call) will beat a mass-produced template acknowledgement letter any day.

2. Send thanks in timely and responsive manner

I believe one of the keys to good fundraising is great customer service (also known as donor service). There are a number of qualities that make up great customer service. One of the most important is responsiveness. Being responsive means reacting quickly and positively to a donor’s interactions and engagement with your organization. Being responsive proves your commitment to the relationship with the donor.

Sending a donor thank you immediately following the gift increases the authenticity of the acknowledgement. A goal of customer service is to make customers feel like they are the only customer that you have. The same is true with donors. Sending a thank you immediately following a gift will make the donor feel like they are a focus of your attention and that you really care about them, not just the dollars and cents of their gift.

If you normally send acknowledgments to donors on a monthly basis, try sending them to donors on a weekly basis, and if you send them on a weekly basis, try to send them within 48 hours of the gift.

3. Show donors that they are making a difference

The best donor acknowledgments are the ones that put donors at the center of your mission. Show donors how their contributions are making a difference. With outcomes from your mission, you can tell donors exactly how their contributions impact the community. Outcomes are the social, emotional, and economic return on investment donors look for when contributing to an organization. Outcomes provide donors a tangible connection to your mission. It feels good to give. It feels even better to give when that gift is connected to real and quantifiable impact. As a result, outcomes are a perfect addition to your thank you messages to donors.

It may be difficult to thank donors with an outcome driven message immediately following a gift. If that is the case, you can follow up with a donor six months or even a year later to show them the real outcome of their contribution. This doesn’t eliminate the need to thank a donor immediately following a gift, but it does give your organization an opportunity to follow up with the donor in the future. More opportunities to say thank you can help you build a stronger relationship with the donor and prove your authentic gratitude for the gift. In addition, a follow up can engage the donor, increase their probability of giving in the future (because you are fostering the relationship), and help your organization focus on retaining the donor long-term.

The “Golden Rule” Test

The “Golden Rule” states, “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” This applies perfectly to donors. The “Golden Rule” is the perfect test for your donor acknowledgements. If you were giving and felt passionately about your contribution to an organization, how would you like to be recognized, acknowledged, and thanked? Treat donors the way you would like to be treated. Don’t take shortcuts with your donor relationships and especially don’t take shortcuts with donor acknowledgements. Test your recognition, acknowledgment, and thank you processes on yourself. Would you appreciate the thank you or acknowledgment and feel closer to the organization (i.e. a deeper relationship) if you received your organization’s thank you message or acknowledgement? If your thank you or acknowledgment passes the test, then you know that your thank you messages are authentic, genuine, and in keeping with your personal (or your organization’s) expectations and standards.

Even though the tips in this post are basic, try the “Golden Rule” test to see if they are effective. If you donated to a nonprofit organization of your choice, would you appreciate a handwritten thank you, that explains the impact of your gift, and that was sent shortly after you contributed? Would you feel like your contribution was appreciated and recognized if the organization focused on a relationship with you, was responsive to your needs, and told you how your contribution is making a difference?

My answer: Definitely, Yes!

Your organization has an opportunity to stand out. Your organization has an opportunity to create relationships with donors. Getting the donor acknowledgement process “right” is critical. With these three tips and the “Golden Rule” test, you can improve your thank you process and effectively recognize the contributions of your donors.

Thank you for reading this post!