A Catalyst for Fundraising Retention, Part 3
For the last two weeks, I have been delving into the receipts I received for year-end gifts. Last week’s post talked about the best features I saw, and this week I will look at where there is room for improvement.
When it comes to sending our receipts and thank-you messages, the most important goals should be “fast and grateful.” So kudos to every organization that receipted me—and did it quickly. The typical donor will see the thank you and probably file it away for taxes; it may not seem to make much of an impression, but research shows that saying “thank you” does matter as it is one more piece to building a relationship with that donor.
Following are things that I noticed could be improved with the receipts I received. In no case are they relationship-destroyers; the mere fact of saying “thank you” covers them. And yes, some are downright picky. But as you look to improve donor retention throughout 2016, pay attention to these seven things—because saying “thank you” is good, but saying “thank you” with a really great receipt package can be even better.
- Don’t lose the human touch. Some thank you/receipt pieces were filled with IRS requirements but lacking in conversational messaging. Yes, we need to state if the gift is tax deductible and whether or not the donor received any good or services. But there has to be room for a genuine “thank you.” Your receipt is a legal document, but that doesn’t mean you can’t surround that with humanity. Fulfill the requirements, but never forget that this is also a tool for building a relationship with the recipient.
- Make it personal. This is a personal communication; it might feel that way if you peppered in some things that tell me you recognize me as a person. One of those things is the gift amount. That can help give me confidence in the legitimacy of your organization. Another is my name; you know who I am because my name was on my check. So why did you address the letter (filled with personal information, like my gift amount and the date of the gift) to “Friend”—or worse yet, “Friends, Patrons and Supporters.” Make sure your donor knows you consider him or her a person, not just a giving unit.
- Talk about me, too, not just about your organization. A thank-you message is about the donor—you made a good choice, you are making great things possible, you are appreciated. When the ratio of references to “we/our” (the organization) outpaces “you” (the donor) by seven to one, you’re not talking to the donor; you are talking to yourselves. It’s fine to share an accomplishment or two to build credibility, but the main message should be about the donor. Build a relationship; don’t preach a sermon.
- Purge out all organizational buzzwords. Remember to make your letter a conversation that just happens to be in print. Acronyms and multi-syllabic words are just too much work to decipher. We get so close that we forget that everyone doesn’t walk around saying things like "alleviate," "economically disadvantaged," "strategic implementation" or "habitat enhancement." These are not bad words; they just aren’t our everyday language. It’s not a matter of “dumbing it down.” It’s about communicating with words that easily let me form mental pictures—and then feel good as a result.
- Keep it short. I don’t want to work that hard to find out you are thankful. Dense copy that fills the page screams, “Don’t read me!” Instead, make your message of thanks easily grasped by a busy person who only has time to scan the page.
- Be the organization you want to be when you grow up. A sloppy receipt suggests you are sloppy in your handling of my money. Typos and poor grammar make me question your effectiveness. You may be small and have limited resources, but your image to a donor should be that you are responsible. That begins with a receipt and thank you that project stability. (And this certainly applies to the nonprofit that incorrectly entered my address so delivery was at the mercy of a kind mail carrier. You can be assured that your future nonprofit-rate mail will never make it to my mailbox.)
- Make it easy for the donor to give again should he or she choose. A few organizations included a return envelope. I recommend doing that; it’s a proven way to raise more money. Done gently, it isn’t offensive. But if you aren’t willing (yet) to do that, at least provide an address on the letter or receipt so I can find you if I want to give again.
To paraphrase a Kissmetrics blog posting: To put it simply, it’s a jungle out there, and donors are lost among all the names, choices, options and brands. What’s worse? Donor loyalty is at an all-time low. Brands just don’t have the staying power they once had (or were thought to have).
This old dog believes that a plan for getting your donors to stick around has to include a strategy for saying “thank you” in the most genuine, appealing way possible—and that begins with seeing if your receipting program can benefit from any of these improvements.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.