January 20, 2009 | Categories Donor Management, Fundraising Strategies

I’m sure your mother taught you to say “Thank You”

Everyone’s mother did, and thanking donors is a basic rule of successful fundraising. That’s why I’m amazed at how often I don’t receive a gift acknowledgement or when I receive a thank-you letter weeks or months after my donation. I’m pretty certain the charity’s Executive Director or Director of Development isn’t aware that this is happening, so here are a few potential causes (and suggested solutions).

1) DELAYS IN ENTERING GIFTS – Typically, sending a donation acknowledgement letter is the last step in entering the gift into fundraising software and many nonprofits can’t keep up with the volume during peak periods like the end of the year. Two ways to address this are:

Encourage online donations – If your website has been setup to accept online donations and automatically provide donors a gift receipt and thank-you email, encouraging year-end giving this way ensures a fully automated and timely acknowledgement. Assuming your online donations automatically download into your fundraising system, it even cuts down data entry so that a more formal thank-you letter can be generated quickly and easily.

Use temps or volunteers – They’re the most cost-effective way to handle seasonal peaks in work. This can be particularly easy to implement if your organization is using a web-hosted fundraising system since temporary workers or volunteers can be setup to work from their homes.

2) COMPLEX PROCESSES TO GENERATE THANK-YOU LETTERS – If generating a thank-you letter requires lots of steps or manually editing letters each time, consider ways to simplify and improve the process such as:

Have pre-written thank-you letter templates for your most common types of gifts (new donor, donor who gave more, donor with company matching option, etc.). Each letter should be setup to automatically merge name, address, gift details, etc. directly from your fundraising database (why would you ever want to have to type the same information twice?). The best fundraising systems allow you to just pick which acknowledgement letter you want to send as you enter each gift, and then generate all of them as one print-batch.

Personalization – Including a personalized P.S. or note is a great idea and it’s possible to setup your thank-you letter so you can enter your custom message as each letter is produced. Often handwritten messages are even more effective and can be added once the letters have been printed.

3) NON-STANDARD TYPES OF DONATIONS – I frequently make donations of appreciated stock, though I now do this through a donor advised fund I established with the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program (see my earlier post for why I love giving this way). Anyway, I’m sure most nonprofits get a relatively small number of donations this way and they haven’t established a good procedure for acknowledging the gifts.

Create the necessary acknowledgements and processes – Although less frequent, gifts of appreciated assets, grants from donor advised funds, matching gifts and other types of gifts involving “soft credits” are typically larger and will continue to become even more popular, so invest a little time in ensuring you can record and recognize them efficiently and accurately. Look for another post with some tips on this soon.

I’m sure these aren’t the only challenges that cause delayed acknowledgements, so please feel free to email me a dschoenberg@softerware.com with other problem areas you’ve identified. I promise to promptly send you a thank you acknowledgement if you do.
Written by Amanda Foran
  1. Personnel transitions are another kind of challenge that can cause a delay in acknowledging gifts. I joined an organization during the first week of December, a time that was already busy enough with Giving Tuesday and year-end giving. Mine was a newly created position, so I inherited a backlog of gift entry and acknowledgements going back a month. The person handling these responsibilities before me was simultaneously transitioning to a marketing-only role. It was the end of January when I finally mailed the last thank-you letter for the previous year's gifts, and I did get a few phone calls from donors who noticed. You'd be surprised how much saying "It's my fault; I'm sorry" before explaining a delay is calming and de-escalates the situation!
  2. I like that you said that you could customize your letter to appreciate them. Last night, my best friend told me that they are planning to give a financial donation to give back to the community, and he asked if I had any idea what would be the best option to do. Thanks to this informative article, I'll be sure to tell him that it will be much better if they consult a nonprofit housing assistance donation campaign as they can provide more information about the campaign.

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