The Thank You letter often is created and sent without much thought. It may seem to be the last step in getting a gift from a donor and a routine task that warrants little merit. But it’s actually the first step in building a relationship. Do it well and the rewards are great. Mess it up, and you just lost your chance at keeping a valuable donor.
These letters can’t be slapped together. Purposeful and well-thought out Thank You letters communicate a lot to your donors, through the actual words and the unspoken messages you’re sending.
Make sure you are getting the most from your Thank You letter efforts with these ideas.
1. Send it QUICK. The faster you get your Thank You letters out the door, the better. Donors want to be sure that you received their gift and a Thank You letter is the best way to let them know it arrived safely. Shoot for 48 hours from the time you receive a gift until the time you put the Thank You letter in the mail. If it takes you a little longer and that’s the best you can do, work with it. Figure out what will work for your organization and put a priority on getting the letters out the door.
2. Make it match. Instead of sending out a generic letter, customize your Thank You letter to the specific ask that was used to generate the gift. If a gift comes to you from an appeal you sent out, then make sure your Thank You letter refers back to the story or the text in the appeal. You may need to write several different letters that can be used for whatever you have going on. For instance, you may want to write one letter for a special event you are working on, another one for monthly givers, and another one for donors who respond to your newsletter. Relating the Thank You letter back to the ask is a way to let your donors know you are paying attention and that you are organized enough to use be trustworthy.
3. Share your plans for their money. This is critical. Make sure the donor knows how you plan to use the donation he or she just sent you. Text like “Your gift will help send 15 children to summer camp for one week” makes the process of donating more real and tangible to the donor. They can envision 15 kids going to camp for a week and it helps create a bigger feeling of satisfaction for the donor.
4. Use a real signature. Digital signatures are easy and eliminate hand signing a stack of letters. But savvy donors know the difference between a digital signature and a live one. Have your President or Executive Director sign the letters, or ask a volunteer to sign them on his or her behalf. And use a blue pen so that donors can clearly tell it is a real signature.
5. Add personal notes to the letters. Have your Executive Director or President go through the letters and add personal notes. This can bring big rewards in terms of stewarding donors! Taking a few minutes of a busy day to go through a stack of letters may seem like a chore to your boss, but donors who get a Thank You letter with a personal note will be thrilled that the head staff person took the time to personally acknowledge his or her gift.
6. Include cumulative giving data. Hopefully you have this information in your donor tracking software and can get to it easily. Sometimes donors forget when they last gave. Including year-to-date information can be a gentle reminder for them of their giving.
7. Make it clear if the letter is also a receipt. Don’t you hate getting boring Thank You letters that drone on and never clearly spell out the gift you made? (By the way, if you aren’t giving to other organizations, you need to. It’s a great way to put yourself in the donor’s shoes and also lets you see how other organizations handle the thank you process.) If you have to, draw a line on the page below the thank you text and put “Gift Receipt” about the actual gift information. This will make things crystal clear for the donor and eliminate confusion. It will also reduce the number of calls and emails you get from donors saying they never got a receipt.
8. Include an offer for a tour. Always include in your Thank You letter an offer for a guided tour of your facility or program site (if appropriate). Chances are good that you’ll get a few people who want to visit you. Seeing firsthand the work that you do may make all the difference in the world to a particular donor. It can also mean the difference in an average size gift and a major gift. Even if you never have anyone take you up on this, they will remember that you offered, and that matters.
I remember one particular donor who came for a tour of my organization with his wife. They had always been good givers and usually gave about $10,000 a year. They were so impressed by the tour that they wrote a check on the spot for an additional $10,000!
9. Give the donor a contact. Include the name and contact info of someone the donor can call with questions. Donors want to be able to call and talk to a real, live, knowledgeable person when they have questions. So be sure to include the name and phone number in your Thank You letters of someone who can answer questions for them.