How, When and Why to Thank Donors
Sending a timely, relevant thank-you letter in return for a gift is the prudent and polite thing to do — both in our private lives and in fundraising. It’s all about preserving a relationship, communicating appropriately, and establishing and maintaining a personal style.
Ms. Manners taught us the rules of etiquette when writing personal thank-you notes, but what about a donor program with thousands of people to thank? What are the rules? And who gets to write them?
Rather than jump on my personal soapbox, I sought the advice of nonprofit-development professionals and agency consultants. Here are some of their thoughts.
When to say ‘thanks’
Everyone on my panel agreed on one thing: A speedy reply by mail is vital. More than a dozen professionals I spoke to said they send a thank-you note within two days to two weeks, with an average of “less than a week.”
The acknowledgement should come in the mail and reflect the style and mission of your organization. Online gifts should be acknowledged immediately with an e-mail reply.
“Timing is critical. Mail your receipts daily. Response and cash flow will improve dramatically,” says John Graham, vice president of ministry advancement for Atlanta-based In Touch Ministries. “Do not send receipts out weekly or monthly. When this happens, donor bonding is eroded, contribution revenue is not maximized, and cash flow is deferred.”
Ken Burnett, author of Relationship Fundraising and chairman of the U.K.-based Cascaid Group, concurs.
“All gifts should be acknowledged. It’s only polite,” Burnett says. “Plus, a prompt and appropriate ‘thank you’ leads to bigger gifts. The lady who sends you $10 today may in the future leave you a bequest of her house in Key Biscayne, Fla. But only if you are nice to her.”
But Mal Warwick, founder of California-based Mal Warwick & Associates, has sympathy for the mountain of work involved.