My colleague Kim Klein, publisher of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, once wrote an article, “Donors Are Not Water Faucets.” If you only contact your contributors to request money and ignore them the rest of the time, she wrote, pretty soon they will stop contributing. Her advice, based on both good manners and common sense, is nonetheless disregarded by many novice fundraisers.
Think about the last time you made a gift to your favorite organization. In return, you probably received a form letter or postcard. For many groups, this letter – brief, direct, and way too formal – is their only effort to acknowledge donors.
You can, and should, go a lot further. By showing appreciation, you invite donors into the “organizational family” and increase their sense of participation. Your creativity and subtle persistence in saying “thank you” will go a long way toward securing the next gift. In other words, your acknowledgement strategy (how you say thank you) is a big piece of your cultivation strategy (how you renew donors and increase the size of their contributions).
Here are 12 ideas to get you started:
1. Send a formal thank you. This is required by law for gifts over $250 and is a good idea for all donors. Always have a real human being sign the letter and add an informal postscript: “Thanks for your continued support,” “We appreciate your help,” etc.
2. Acknowledge upgrades and/or cumulative giving. Recognize growth in giving: “Thanks for increasing your donation to $50.” When thanking a long-time donor, consider totalling and recognizing her gifts: “Since 1992, you’ve contributed $200. Thank you! We really appreciate your continuing enthusiasm for our work.” These notes can be incorporated into the body of the letter or added by hand.
3. Solicit informal notes from board members. At least twice per year, circulate the names and addresses of top donors to your board. Ask board members to write thank you notes, on personal stationery, to any donors they know.
4. Use the phone. While some people don’t like solicitation phone calls, almost everyone appreciates the words “thank you.” You will surprise and delight your donors with a quick, painless acknowledgement call. “Thank you – we appreciate your support” also works well on answering machines. If you’re nervous about the call, or want to limit your time on the phone, try calling when no one will be there and leave a brief, upbeat message.
5. Acknowledge donors in your newsletter. Many organizations publish names of contributors in their newsletters and annual reports. Before doing this, give donors the chance to remain anonymous. If you have a donor response card, add a check-off box: “Please do not publicly acknowledge my gift in your newsletter.” If donors don’t check the box, it’s okay to print their names.
6. Invite donors to tour your facility. The best way to engage people in your work is to show them, first-hand, what you do all day. If appropriate, have them meet the clients and/or beneficiaries of your programs.
7. Invite contributors to one of your activities. Ask them to join you at your annual meeting, rally, performance, press conference, community workshop, whatever. Use every opportunity to showcase your group in action.
8. Encourage donors to become volunteers. Some will refuse but will appreciate your desire to involve them in the work. (Don’t forget to solicit your current volunteers for gifts. People who donate time are the most likely group to make financial contributions.)
9. Send special program updates. Two or three times per year, write reports specifically for your top donors, including foundation and corporate grantmakers. Keep these reports brief – no more than two pages – and informal. Create a sense of intimacy; make the reader part of your “inner circle” by sharing information about emerging strategies and opportunities.
10. Send “comp” tickets to your next benefit event. While it doesn’t make sense to give away too many tickets, consider “comping” your best donors and prospects. For example, Native Seeds/SEARCH, a cultural restoration organization in Tucson, organizes a big “Chile Fiesta” each fall. All donors of $100 or more receive a pair of admission tickets (worth $5) to encourage their attendance and reinforce their relationship with the organization. Once at the festival, they also spent a lot of money on food, crafts, and other items, so this strategy actually increases income.
11. Share the good news. If you receive substantial coverage in a newspaper or magazine, clip the story, paste it up with the publication’s masthead, and make photocopies. Send these to top donors with a note: “Thought you might enjoy this,” “Thanks for your past support,” and so forth.
12. Send informal photos of your group in action. Send action pictures – planting the community garden, picketing city hall, repairing the abandoned house. Put a note on the back: “Your gift makes this work possible. Thank you!”
Speaking of “thank you,” I’d like to gratefully acknowledge the readers and staff of Shelterforce for the opportunity to share my ideas. While this is my last column for the magazine, I look forward to hearing your questions and feedback. You can reach me at 520-798-3993.