Hail to the Receipt: 10 Tips for Better Receipting

With the holidays coming, have you checked it twice? I’m speaking of your receipting program, of course, not your gift list.

Any regular reader of this blog knows that I am a fanatic about sending out receipts. This isn’t because I own stock in the U.S. Post Office (I don’t and I couldn’t, of course). It’s not because I am a whiny “old” donor (I am a Baby Boomer, but we’re forever young—or at least trying to stay that way). It is because donors stick with an organization past one or two gifts when they have a relationship with that organization, and part of maintaining a relationship is saying “thank you.”

If your receipting method or message needs a tune-up before the year-end rush, here are some things to consider:

1. Receipts are more than tax documents that someone may or may not need. They combat donor remorse. “Hey, I must have made a good decision, because they sent me this official record of my gift!” is what we want our donors (especially first-time donors and occasional givers) to think. Not, “Oh, man, I was so stupid. I never heard from those guys after I send in a donation, so it was clearly a scam.”

2. Receipt quickly. That’s another way to keep donor remorse from festering. Make receipting donations a priority. It doesn’t matter how great your next e-appeal is if you’ve got a bunch of skeptical people on your mailing list. I made two first-time donations almost three weeks ago and haven’t heard a word (other than the CPA-friendly auto-response from the online gift portal). Sorry, but I am just not feeling the love.

3. Write a letter with customized copy for bigger projects or seasons. “Thank you so much for your gift in response to our holiday giving campaign” sounds a lot more sincere than, “Thank you so much for your gift to the general fund.” This letter should be short, to the point and conversational, with “thank you” first and foremost.

4. Report success. A simple way to do this is to include a brief mini-newsletter that gives a couple of current (and short) success stories with big photos. This doesn’t even have to be fancy—you can print them out of a word processing program if you choose. The point is to give the donor immediate satisfaction from seeing that your organization is really doing what it says it is doing.

5. Encourage repeat giving. Yes, it’s a receipt and a thank you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add a soft ask. “Again, Mrs. Jones, we are so grateful for your generous gift to help us feed homeless families this holiday season. We’re helping our neediest neighbors every day, thanks to your support. I hope you will consider helping again as you are able, and I assure you that we will continue to work hard to deserve your continued partnership.”

6. Reaffirm gratitude. If your thank-you letter is 20 lines long, for example, there’s no harm in saying “thank you” in the opening line and in the closing paragraph—and even once in between if it flows well. Don’t be over-the-top gushy, but show sincere gratitude more than once in a thoughtful, sincere way.

7. Maximize first-class postage. You are paying for an ounce, so pack that envelope right up to that point. Some enclosures may include a return envelope, a reminder about leaving a bequest, an opportunity to give a memorial gift, a card the donor can keep that offers a word of encouragement, a request for referral names, a seasonal greeting card, a photo that shows your mission in action, or another insert that is inexpensive to produce but may have value to the donor.

Sound like a lot of work? If so, ask how much work it was to get that donor in the first place. Isn’t the effort to send a sincere thank you worth the bother?

Need proof? The find-remind-and-bind theory of gratitude put forth by Dr. Sara Algoe at the University of North Carolina used scientific research to identify benefits of gratitude: Begin (find) new relationships; remind people of the relationship they have with you; and strengthen (bind) those relationships to you.

Wonder what’s in it for you? The Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley reported, “People who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits: stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure; higher levels of positive emotions; more joy, optimism, and happiness; acting with more generosity and compassion; (and) feeling less lonely and isolated.”

So, this old dog thanks you for reading, and reminds you that saying thank you is one of the greatest joys we should have as a fundraiser. Selfishly, it shows we succeeded in expressing the benefits of a donation to our cause. And more importantly, it means the mission we care about will be furthered because someone else caught the excitement and wanted to help make a difference, too.

Originally published in NonProfitPRO.

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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