Bringing in the Money: The Importance of Thanking Your Donors in Achieving Fundraising Success

Every fundraiser knows to thank their donors after donations come in. But how many fundraisers actually do it? Sadly, not many. Try making seven $10 donations to seven organizations new to you and see how many thank you acknowledgements you get. Now count how many you get within two to three days of making your donation. Try it. See what happens.

According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the first-year donor retention is a puny 23 percent. The overall donor retention rate is a still poor 45 percent and has hovered around that level for years. This means that most nonprofit organizations lose more donors than they retain every year. Which means they’re losing money. Maybe the donor retention would be higher if more fundraisers would just meaningfully say thank you more promptly and more often.

Engaging and Retaining Your Donors by Saying Thank You

Saying thank you acknowledges and validates the actions someone has gone out of their way to do on your organization’s behalf. As we discussed in  Building Donor Relationships: Individuals, people want to be acknowledged and validated. Saying thank you meets a person’s basic need to feel valued. And people appreciate having their needs met. People are much more likely to respond to your needs if you respond to theirs.

A simple thank you goes a long way toward building strong donor relationships. The donor has given. You have responded. Your responding shows you are willing to engage in a two-way relationship. You already know the donor is invested enough in your agency’s mission that they made a donation. Build on that emotional investment. Take the next step to developing a successful donor relationship and ask your donor to do something else besides making a donation. As we discussed in Creating Donor Communications that Work, ask them to follow you on Facebook, take a survey, join you for an educational event – whatever it is, engage your donor. Increase the likelihood that you will retain your donors and they will give again. It all starts with that first thank you. Use saying thank you to engage your donors in a two-way relationship.

To create the most effective donor relationships, thank your donors not only when make a donation, but whenever they respond to a call to action. You can never thank your donors too often. I have never met any donor who was offended by being thanked too much unless the thank you came across as unauthentic. Let your donors know you know and appreciate what they did. Acknowledge and validate them each time they contribute to your mission, whether it be time, talent or treasure. Meet their emotional needs again. Keep building that goodwill.  Then engage them some more. Send them another call to action. Create an ongoing positive cycle of donor engagement and mission fulfillment.

Meaningful messages lead to good feelings about your agency, creating good donor experiences. People are more likely to repeat positive experiences than neutral or negative ones. Meaningful messages are personal and authentic. A meaningful thank you is more than the automatic reply your website may generate or an impersonal communication from you about charitable deductions. A meaningful thank you letter can have handwritten note from the executive director or board member written on it. Or, send a personalized note about something that is happening in the donor’s life. Or a letter from a service recipient can be included. If the donor is interested in a specific aspect of your organization, tailor your message’s mission component to relate to that aspect. Do you know what your donors’ interests are? How up to date are your donor records? Do you record your donors’ preferences in your database? It is important to keep your donor records current and up to date for more than just financial purposes.

Deliver a thank you within 48 hours, while the memory of making the donation is still fresh in the donor’s mind. Otherwise, your message is diluted, either because the donor doesn’t remember making the donation or so much time has passed that your message comes across as perfunctory. If a thank you comes across as perfunctory, you just lost an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with the donor. Which is important because you engage donors through relationships.

Effective Donor Thank You’s Emphasize Fulfillment of Mission not Financial Need

Mention mission fulfillment when you thank your donors. As we saw in Successful Nonprofit Fundraising: It’s Not About the Money, it is mission, not money, that motivates. So, relate the act of giving to meeting mission in your thanking just as much as in your asking.  People want to be a successful part of something bigger than themselves. Your donors want to know they are will be part of successfully meeting your mission. Their acts of donating money to you just gave your organization resources to do that. So, in addition to the monetary amount, make sure you mention mission impact when you thank your donors. Give them feedback on the results of their actions. Let them feel like they are crucial to mission impact. It is an easy way to keep your donors motivated. 

Talking about your mission also gives donors fuel to become ambassadors for your agency. Wouldn’t it be great have your donors involved with your agency to the extent that they create positive community buzz about your agency? And, because they have had a rewarding donor experience, they entice other people to get involved?  Wouldn’t it be great if your current donors were recruiting new donors? How do you ask your donors to help you spread the word about your agency? Do you engage them in ways beyond donating money? If you do, watch those engaged donors stick around. And watch the gifts increase in size. With increased donor retention and larger average gifts, your fundraising performance will improve, leaving you more money to fulfill more mission.

Wrapping It All Up

Thanking your donors makes you stand out and separates you from the rest of the pack. When you thank your donors in a meaningful way, the result is stronger relationships. Stronger donor relationships lead to improved donor retention. As we saw in Developing a Nonprofit Fundraising Strategy that Optimizes Fundraising Performance, improved donor retention leads increased overall donations and lower costs.  Which leads for better agency financial performance.

People appreciate being thanked. When they are thanked, people’s efforts are acknowledged and they feel validated, which leads to goodwill. Talking about mission fulfillment motivates them to stay involved. Meaningful messages lead to even stronger goodwill. Thanking them often, after every call to action, further engages them. And higher donor engagement leads to better fundraising performance.

And better fundraising performance leads to more mission fulfillment. And mission fulfillment is what motivates your donors to get more involved and give again.

So, remember to thank your donors, promptly and often. 

See my books and trainings