The Importance of ‘Thank You’
As your mother said, saying “thank you” is really important. For nonprofit organizations, it’s essential. In fact, if you don’t express gratitude quickly and well, your donors are likely to give somewhere else.
The Red Cross took a beating after Hurricane Katrina last summer because it didn’t quickly acknowledge contributions. The New York Times quoted one donor on tardy gift acknowledgments as saying: “It raises concerns about where the money is. If it’s not clearing within a reasonable amount of time, where is it? Is it in a secure location? It’s certainly an inconvenience for the people giving money, and it all adds up to questions about the Red Cross.”
The Red Cross probably had a justifiable reason for slow acknowledgment of gifts immediately following Hurricane Katrina — as many organizations do during the busy holiday fundraising season, for example. But we can’t deny the significance of a donor’s first impression when his gift isn’t acknowledged in a timely fashion.
The risks of slow ‘thank you’ messages
Failure to quickly and correctly acknowledge a donor’s gift can be organizational suicide. No donor’s going to give again until his previous gift is properly acknowledged. Would you?
Still, it seems that saying “thank you” in a timely fashion is difficult for some organizations. Last summer, as part of a continuing study of how nonprofit organizations communicate with their donors, my colleagues sent $20 contributions to 21 organizations. The gifts were mailed on July 7, 2005, by regular First Class mail.
Every organization that received one of the test contributions sent an acknowledgment. The fastest to be received was from Habitat for Humanity — 11 days from the date the gift was sent. The slowest was The Salvation Army of Washington, D.C., at 61 days after the gift was sent.
The average gift acknowledgment was received in 36 days. The median number of days between the mail date and the acknowledgment being received was 50, meaning half of the organizations sent their gift receipts in fewer than 50 days and half took longer than 50 days.
Except for Habitat for Humanity, every organization took 25 days or more. From the donor’s perspective, this means that it was nearly a month between the time a gift was mailed and when it was acknowledged. In that amount of time, the donor is likely to have completely forgotten he ever sent the gift in the first place.
Thanking donors is a vital part of the overall fundraising effort. If you don’t thank them quickly and effectively, they’re likely to conclude that your organization isn’t run efficiently. So, check yourself out. Give a gift to your organization and track the response. How long does it take to receive your gift acknowledgment?
An effective gift-acknowledgment program will accomplish the following:
- Donors will receive a quick acknowledgment of their gifts and feel delighted they gave. Saying “thank you” is more than a courtesy; it’s a chance to affirm your donors so they’ll continue their relationship with you. You should mail gift receipts within 72 hours of receiving the gift. Use First Class mail.
- Donors will learn about how their gifts will be used to make a significant difference. The gift-acknowledgment package is a practical tool to inform and educate. The more specific you are about your use of the donor’s gift, the more delighted the donor will be. The gift-acknowledgment package probably is the single most read and digested piece of mail you’ll ever send. It’s a great place to build your brand identity and further strengthen your position in donors’ minds.
- Donors will be given opportunities to engage further. A solid, gift-acknowledgment package will allow donors to ask for more information, request deferred giving details, make a pledge gift or simply send a bounce-back gift.
As I’ve written before, obtaining a second gift from a new donor is crucial for your long-term fundraising success — and a gift-acknowledgment package is the first place to seek another gift. All gift receipts should include a reply coupon.
Run effectively, your gift-acknowledgment program should delight your donors, build their loyalty to your cause and raise significant revenue.
Remember, too, that acknowledging gifts is just one crucial part of an effective fundraising program. To raise the most money, follow what I call the A.A.A.R.M. approach to fundraising: Make donors Aware; Ask for contributions; Acknowledge gifts; Report how the donor’s gift is being used; and Motivate donors to continue their support. Employ the A.A.A.R.M. steps, and your fundraising will soar.
Tim Burgess is co-founder of the Domain Group, an international direct-marketing firm serving nonprofits in North America and Europe. He’s also vice chair of the DMA Nonprofit Federation Advisory Council. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 206.834.1480.