Does Your Fundraising Include These Two Powerful Words?

The words are, of course, “thank you.”

They are early words we teach our kids, repeat at the drive-thru and casually drop while checking out at the grocery store…yet do we say them to our donors?

Yes, I get it; there are meaningful barriers to adding a stewardship strategy to your marketing plan. I often hear:

  • I don’t have time.
  • I don’t have budget.
  • There’s no way to measure ROI.

Those barriers are real, although I argue that the benefits of thanking your donors outweigh them. Let’s look at a few key wins of saying thanks.

4 Benefits of Thanking Donors

1. It serves as a gift acknowledgment.

Have you ever given a gift at a wedding and not received a thank you? It makes you second-guess where you placed the gift on the table and how well you secured the card. It doesn’t feel good.

Thanking a donor for an immediate gift—a stock transfer, for example—is a simple confirmation step. They may also need this acknowledgment to share with their financial or legal advisers.

Other donors may return a reply card or a survey indicating that they have already included you in their will. They are acknowledging that they made you part of their family—you need to confirm that a welcome embrace awaits.

Bonus: Your gift acknowledgment can boost retention. It’s increasingly harder to retain donors and we all know that it costs more to acquire a new donor than to keep a current one. Ensure that you start the relationship with this positive experience.

2. It may increase future giving.

Dr. Russell James had good news for us last year. He published a study that found that legacy gifts boost annual gifts. Donors planning a future gift provided greater financial support over in both qualitative (giving more) and quantitative (giving more often) measures. (Visit our blog to see a chart and further explanation.)

In a similar vein, a 2018 study by Giving USA found that legacy donors want ongoing, personalized stewardship to help them stay connected to the impact of their gift. Provided they had been properly thanked, most legacy donors also reported being open to annual solicitations as a way to “feel useful” and provide immediate support.

3. It allows you to personalize future communications.

What a great chance to deepen the relationship. Use your thank you to clarify how and how often the donor likes to be communicated with. Via email? In-person visits? Snail mail? When you have special events? Frequently? Never again? (A “thanks, but no thanks” is a possible response that you need to honor, too.)

When you personalize future touchpoints by the donor’s interests through their preferred channel and on their timeline, you’ve hit the trifecta of marketing: Right person, right time, right place. 

4. It creates a positive association with giving.

It’s simple psychology: In being thanked, the donor correlates giving to reward. And the more memorable and worthwhile your communication, the stronger the association.

There’s an interesting additional feel-good bonus for your organization: Your fundraisers get to connect to the mission. They get to bond with legacy givers who also love your organization’s work. They get to share initiatives that are making a real difference. They get to celebrate their success in motivating others. Through thank yous, fundraisers get to live out their professional goals.

A Tip For Donor-Centric Gratitude

Professor Adrian Sargeant, the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, has done many studies of a donor’s identity and how it plays into successful marketing. His takeaway is that donors want to see your organization’s values align with their personal values. They want their identity and your organization’s to match.

The stewardship stage is an important time to play this out.

Dr. Sargeant writes, “Are we thanking the donor for making the gift…or thanking them for being the special kind of person that they are? Well, the second is more impactful than the first because everyone loves to feel that they have made a difference and feedback on that difference contributes significantly to well-being. The donor begins to define at least a part of who they are through their support of your organization then the thank you can shift in emphasis to making the donor feel good about being the kind of person that wants to save the planet, end the abuse of children, etc.”

So here’s your tip for stronger communications: Talk about who the donor is because of their gift. For example, they are supportive, caring, generous, future-focused, a patriot, a friend, a protector…(your choice of words should align with your mission and your donors’ attributes in supporting you).

Your goal is to articulate who they are because they gave.

Ready To Thank?

In Dr. Sargeant’s studies, 7 out of 10 people said they had better recall of receiving a thank you letter than an appeal. Make sure it’s memorable for the right reasons. Here are 18 stewardship ideas that upgrade the handwritten note.

You can also hear Dr. Sargeant talk about his studies in our recent 1-hour webinar, “Building Donor Loyalty: Lessons From 25 Years of Research.”

Committing to a stewardship program can be the most important upgrade in your marketing. When your program shifts from just donor acquisition to include donor retention, there are meaningful financial and emotional payoffs.

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