Five Words that Speak Volumes to Your Donors

I recently attended the Bridge conference and came home with some great ideas and learnings.  But one of the most important lessons didn’t happen in a workshop or general session.  It was a result of the modest tip I left for the housekeeper.

After the first day of note-taking and learning, I returned to my room, tossed things on the desk and noticed that there was a handwritten note on the little pad of paper the hotel provides:  “Thank you for your tip.”  It wasn’t preprinted or mass-produced; I could tell that the housekeeper, along with cleaning 10 to 14 rooms that day, had taken time to write this short note to me.

I was impressed.  And I “upgraded” her the next day, leaving a much larger tip than usual, as well as my own note: “Thank you for your good work.”

So, what does this have to do with fundraising? 

There’s a trend at more and more nonprofits to not receipt donations.  Some set a minimum amount threshold for this, others rely on the annual receipt or invite donors to go online and print their own receipt if they desire.

In this day and age of impersonal communication and (dare I say it?) superficial relationships where we measure our value by our Facebook “friends” or Twitter followers, would the nonprofit that truly thanks a donor stand out in the crowd?  And would taking 8 seconds (I timed it) to write “Thank you for your gift!” at the bottom of a receipt significantly raise our overhead?

I am an audience of one, but I do think it matters.  A thoughtful thank you makes me feel appreciated.  There are so many places I can donate; yes, I care about certain causes more than others, but even then, I have many choices—and it’s easy for me to find even more, thanks to the Internet.

As fundraisers, we are good at producing content—online, offline, videos, presentations, proposals and more.  There’s a lot of talking at our donors, when maybe we need to spend more time showing gratitude to them. As Henrik Ibsen said, “A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.”

If your donor appreciation program is lacking, don’t let another day go by without asking yourself if the money you are saving being mediocre at best is really a savings or a deterrent to more giving. 

Some questions to ask are:

  1. How long does it take us to get a receipt out—really, not ideally?
  2. Is that receipt more than a tax document? Is there genuine gratitude expressed?
  3. Are we inviting donors to ignore us by sending out the same boiler-plate information and thank you text for months, if not years?
  4. Does our online gift acknowledgement meet all IRS standards but fail to convey the thanks of a human being, not a machine?
  5. Is there anything we can do to make our donors look forward to getting our receipt? How can we surprise them?
  6. Do our receipts make it easy for a donor to give again without feeling heavy-handed?
  7. Have I ever asked a donor if he or she feels appreciated when the receipt arrives?
  8. Are we hurting retention in the name of saving the money receipting would cost?

I hope the housekeeper who came into my room the next day after I checked out felt as appreciated as I did when I received her note.  And I truly hope our donors never doubt that their gift is playing a part in making our world just a little bit better.  Let’s be sure we’re telling them that!

Originally published in npENAGAGE.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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