We all know thanking donors is important, but sometimes it’s easily brushed aside as one more item on our to-do lists. Consider this grim reality: nonprofits lose the vast majority of donors acquired each year. The typical nonprofit will keep only one in three to one in five of their supporters next year! The good news is there's a lot you can do to turn the tide.
Put your donors—and your thank you process—first this year. Include these four key components for effective and memorable donor thank you letters.
1. Be personal.
First things first! Being personal, warm, and authentic with your donors is critical. People expect for you to have open, honest and authentic relationships with them. When communicating with your donors, make sure that you are being real and you are taking people seriously—not just treating them like an ATM machine.
In addition to creating a warm message, take the time to customize your thank you letters. One way to do this is to segment your audience and group donors based on the gifts they are giving, so that you can message them appropriately. A good email tool should make this easy to do, so take advantage of this option.
If you are doing snail mail outreach, consider writing a handwritten note. We are all doing a lot of email marketing, and we are all used to getting direct mail. It is an unexpected treat to get a handwritten note in the mail, and this is something that can really make you stand out from the crowd.
Another way to differentiate your organization is to pick up the phone and tell them just how important their support really is.
Don’t be afraid to do something different, and take the time to customize your thank yous. Investing the time to be personal pays off by making a good impression on your donors.
2. Be tangible.
Your thank you should connect the donor with what they’ve invested in to a program. It is not enough to say, for example, “Thank you so much for your investment in childcare services,” or, “Thank you so much for helping to save the environment.” Show exactly how their donation is making a difference.
Donors want to know that their dollars matter so tell them what you did with their money. One of the best ways you can do this is by telling one specific story of how a donor’s gift is making a difference. Stories help make the impact of a gift
If your donors are local, invite people to come and be with you and tour your facility. Show them the work that you do, and if possible, meet some of the people that you serve. Let your donors experience and become bonded to your cause. There is nothing like having an unforgettable experience to make a cause become tangible.
3. Be creative.
Don’t look at sending out thank you letters as drudgery—use it as an opportunity to be creative and connect with your donors. Plan to do something that can differentiate you. Sending photos or videos of your work is a fantastic idea. There’s nothing quite like telling your story in a picture or a video. This allows you to create an even stronger emotional resonance with your donors.
Another way to get creative is to let people who love you, some of your best evangelists, speak on your behalf. Instead of sending a thank you note to an executive director, consider sending thank you letters that come from volunteers, community members, or the person who was directly impacted by the gift.
4. Be donor-centric.
Be mindful of the fact that your donors make your work happen. They should get credit for the work that they do. List the accomplishments they’ve made possible and put them front and center in all of your outreach. Don’t just talk about your organization as if it was somehow outside of the work and the investment of your donors.
The idea is that the donor made this possible. They get the credit. What did they accomplish? Not, “Thank you for your gift. Here are all the great things we did.” As you write your thank you letters, imagine all of the good you do with the donor at the center of it. Strive to make your donors feel that way when they hear from you—make it about them and the difference they are making together with you.
Editor's note: This article was adapted from the webinar presentation "Thanks a Million" with Katya Andresen and Jocelyn Harmon. It was originally published on December 20, 2012 and has been updated.