Using Better Thank You’s to Build Bonds with Donors
by Mike Montalto
June 6, 2019

Do you put as much thought into your thank you’s as an actual ask? If not, you should! Better thank you’s stem from a plan to steward each gift and make every donor feel like a valued part of your organization. This is key for long-term donor retention. Saying thank you the right way makes donors feel closer to your mission and gets them excited to engage with your organization at every opportunity.

There are four characteristics that should drive your stewardship strategy. Your thank you’s need to be:

  • Prompt – Say thank you within 48 hours of a donation
  • Thoughtful – You can do better than “Thank you for your $50 gift”.
  • Repetitive – Keep the communications flowing so the relationship keeps growing.
  • Opportunistic – Your donors can do a lot more than write a check.

Think about these guidelines every time someone gives to your organization. These tenets can help you get started on the road to better thank you’s. However, these principles just scratch the surface of how you can steward each gift more effectively.

If you’re ready to take your stewardship to the next level, start using the following tips to create better thank you’s.

Tell a Story

What’s really driving your donors to give? Many nonprofits should ask themselves this question more often. Take the same approach as your appeals when building your message. Donors aren’t really interested in your nonprofit’s financial goals. They want to know how they are furthering a cause that is important to them.

Link back to the narratives in your appeal and let donors know how their gift helps make the next chapter in the story brighter than the last. Make the donor feel like the hero of that story.

 “Your gift provided our dogs with life saving vaccinations. Thank you!”

You should also use powerful visuals to drive the message home. If someone donated to an animal shelter, use happy pictures of the animals there. This can be especially powerful if you used images that evoked a negative emotion in your appeal.

Get Personal

We know that communications based on data-driven relevancy are more effective in building relationships with donors. You can’t just copy and paste a thank you email and send it to the next donor on the list!

Sure, you can start with including the donors gift amount. But this is really the most basic level of personalization. Remember, you want to be thoughtful and make your thank you really stand out.

You can go a step further by reminding your donor how long they have been supporting your mission. It’s amazing what a difference a few words can make in how the donor perceives their relationship with your organization.

“Your continued support has…”

Use your data to go the extra mile. Donor-anniversaries are a great reason to reach out to let donors know how much of a difference they have made overtime. Its also a great soft touch that doesn’t follow a prior gift or make an additional ask.

Use Different Voices

Sending the letter or email from someone the donor is familiar with is a great way to create better thank you’s. There are a couple of different approaches here, so consider what seems like the best fit for your organization, and of course, the donor!

The first option is to have the thank you come from someone within your organization. Personal messages from board members and presidents can leave an impact on donors. You can also have it come from someone closer to your organization’s work to help re-enforce how donations are put into action.

Or, tie back into your storytelling and send the thank you from someone who benefits from your work directly. A letter of appreciation from the head of the animal shelter, or a child that can now attend school can be extremely powerful. If privacy is a concern, you can send blind letters shared through your organization that only include the first name of your beneficiary.

A third option is to have a fellow donor say thank you. However, this should probably be a long-time, high-level donor with some name recognition in your organization. This helps build a sense of community among your donors and can be a powerful way to nudge your mid-level donors towards joining your major donor ranks. 

Leave the Door Open

Better fundraising emails give the donor an opportunity to engage even further with the organization. But we’re not saying to hit them with another appeal! Donor engagement can consist of many different things that can further stewardship or encourage continued support in a non-monetary way.

Let donors know about any upcoming volunteer opportunities. A donor might not be ready to write another check, but they might want to help your nonprofit continue to reach it’s goals. But use your data to make sure you’re only letting donors know about outings that are in their general area!

Does your organization host a gala or other high-profile event each year? Let your loyal supporters know that you’d like them to attend! Letting your donors know that you value them as part of your family and want to celebrate with them is a great way to grow the donor/organization relationship.

You can also use this opportunity to learn a little more about your donors. Sending a donor survey as part of your thank you can do a lot of good things. For one, it’s another way to show donors that you care more about than what’s in their wallet. It shows that you value their input.

Their preferences could help you make the experience better for other donors. Surveys can also give you some unique bits of information about a donor. Use these to make your next round of communications even more personal and relevant or to identify prospective donors with similar traits.

Prove You Care

Remember your donors aren’t just a source of revenue. You need to show them you appreciate their efforts to further your goals. But you also need to treat them like the individuals they are. Your donors aren’t stupid. They can tell the difference between a boilerplate message and a well thought out and overall, better thank you.

We know the workload nonprofits are tasked with and how stewardship can often fall by the wayside. But not doing enough to thank donors is a costly mistake far too many nonprofits make.

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