Donor thank you notes.

Donor thank you notes are an important part of donor recognition. Donor recognition is any form of communication we use to thank donors before, during, and after making a gift. While much is said regarding donor retention or keeping donors from year-to-year, only a small amount of time is spent discussing the way non-profits currently recognize donors. Perhaps this is because the way we recognize donors is so ingrained in what we do that it becomes second nature and the process is on auto-pilot. It is time to re-think the way to recognize donors. For the purpose of this article, let's discuss one form of donor recognition: donor thank you notes.

Myth: Sending out donor thank you notes in a timely manner will keep your donor's attention and money

This is only partly true. Your donor thank you notes will only impact your donor retention IF it is done correctly. Here are 3 things to consider:

  1. What is the purpose of your interaction?

Acknowledging your donor for their support is not the same as recognizing them for it.

An acknowledgment based donor thank you note is often standard and transactional. The letter usually verifies the date and amount of someone's most recent payment. It is usually printed on official non-profit letterhead. This often includes a generic thank you and the electronic signature of your Executive Director.

On the other hand, relationship focused donor thank you notes focus on the donor. The letter is conversational in nature and centered on the donor. The letter focuses on the individuals and their passion and interests and not on the non-profit's goals or achievements. The purpose of a recognition-based donor thank you note is to show gratitude and help your investors feel their gift is appreciated.

Which form of a thank you letter is your non-profit currently using?

2. Are you considering their total value?

Recognition based letters focus on the donor's total impact, not on the monetary value of their most recent gift.

The letter should be focused on thanking the investor for their commitment to your cause, not just for their financial support. I specifically used the word investor rather than donor, as they are investing in your cause not donating to it. (I will let you think about the difference).In fact, the focus shouldn't be on the money at all. It should be focused on the lives of the individuals their support has changed.

3. Are you thinking long-term?

Sending out a donor thank you note for a gift is recognizing a donor for taking the first step on a journey you will embark on together. Their current gift is not the final destination.

As you prepare your thank you note, a question to consider is: how does the interaction help encourage and prepare your donor to make their next investment? (I am not only talking about making their next gift).

4. Donor recognition is often a test:

The first gift a donor makes is often a test to see if your non-profit is a cause they would like to invest in.

The way you respond to a donor's gift will in large measure determine whether they renew, upgrade, or discontinue their support in the future. An easy way to evaluate your current fundraising letter is to put yourself in their shoes. If you were receiving the recognition letter, how would you react? Would you get rid of it, hang it on the refrigerator, or make another gift?

I can't tell you all the ways to make your next recognition letter impactful. What I can tell you is it doesn't matter how fast you send out your thank you note if your donor throws it in the trash.

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