A Catalyst for Fundraising Retention, Part 2
Last week I wrote, in the first part of this series, “Donor retention is abysmal. Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to keep the donors we have, instead of constantly chasing after potential donors who are often elusive and incredibly expensive to acquire? Can we afford to keep churning through donors? … A donation should be a catalyst for a receipt and a ‘thank you,’ and that may then be the catalyst for another gift.”
It’s one week later, and two things haven’t changed. First, four of the 23 nonprofit organizations that I sent a year-end gift to still haven’t said “thank you,” and secondly, I remain convinced that a strong receipting/thank-you program is a key component to building lasting relationships. There is scientific evidence for this (the "Find, Remind and Bind Theory of Gratitude" I mentioned last week), and I believe that elusive thing known as common sense tells us this, too. And yet we push that aside in an effort to save money—but at what cost to donor retention?
This post will take a look at the receipts and thank-you letters I received and highlight some of the positive things that were scattered throughout them. Why do I think I am qualified to address this? Well, I have some disposable income and philanthropic intent. If I also have an interest in your organization and/or cause, I could potentially be a donor because these three things are important characteristics of donors. So think of me as your personal donor avatar, representing the donor who has just looked at a thank-you letter for a contribution and, perhaps, is wondering, “Should I give again?” The answer might be “yes” if you:
- Said 'thank you.' Now that seems kind of like a given, doesn’t it? And for most organizations, it was. Letters opened by saying things like, “We cannot thank you enough …” and “Thank you very much.” However, one organization buried its thanks, focusing on what it had done for several lines before remembering to thank me for my small role in making that possible. As a person who often scans rather than reads word-for-word, I wondered if I was even thanked. It never hurts to say “thank you” (and even say it more than once) and to make sure that it’s a message that rings out loud and clear.
- Hand-signed my letter—or made me think you did. As a new donor to most of these organizations, I appreciated the personal touch. I know it’s hard to hand-sign every letter, but several that probably were lasered looked good enough to leave me wondering. If you are lasering on the signature, make it look as “real” as possible; a few were clearly printed (not signed) and the result was a less personal feel.
- Shared a great photo. A few of the thank-you letters had a mission-representative photo—primarily happy children and a few rescued animals. The photo wasn’t the dominant part of the letter, but it was there as a subtle reminder of what my gift was really all about. One especially made me smile—a couple of happy campers (literally) at an American Heritage Girls program. Call me sappy, but I actually felt proud that I had helped bring a smile to a girl somewhere.
- Kept it short. Most of the letters were a few paragraphs—thank you/you made this possible/thank you again. A few were long and (dare I say) unfocused. Like many donors, I didn’t really want to be bothered reading them. After reading (or scanning) your thank-you letter, donors should feel good about themselves, not overwhelmed by information about the organization.
- Tied my gift to a tangible outcome. While thank-you letters shouldn’t just talk about the organization, there is plenty of room for a short, compelling reminder of what the gift will do. One organization provided a laundry list of things that would happen “thanks to you,” and that felt a bit unbelievable since my donation was small. On the other hand, I know I helped refugees from Syria, invested in community theater, contributed to a scholarship fund at a university, enhanced the lives of seniors, helped protect threatened birds, and so much more. I may not have solved the problems, but I did what I could to help.
After reading all these receipt letters, how do I feel? Overall, I feel appreciated. It wasn’t gushy and usually not over-the-top compared to the value of my gift, but the letters were sincere and (mostly) easy to read. I had no doubt that I had made a difference—albeit small—to some good causes. I also received the needed information for my tax purposes, even though the gifts weren’t at the threshold that requires a receipt. These organizations cared more about doing something positive to add one more brick to the relationship they are building with me than saving a few quarters “just because you aren’t required to have a receipt for less than $250.”
This old dog sees a lot of direct mail and donor communications—and I admit I am a harsh critic. But when we are trying to make sure our organizations have the financial support to fulfill our missions and goals, we need to cherish every donor and do whatever we can to build their loyalty to us. In a recent article for NonProfit PRO, I reported on a study done in the U.K. by professor Adrian Sargeant, director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at the University of Plymouth, and Roger Lawson, founder of About Loyalty. Their findings should be a clarion call to all of us in fundraising—we can increase donor loyalty when we pay attention to its three main drivers: commitment, satisfaction and trust.
So the question is: Does your thank-you letters program increase a donor’s commitment to, satisfaction in and trust of your organization?
Next week: Part 3: Ways to improve your thank you letters.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.