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  • Writer's pictureDanielle M. Locke

12 nonprofits, 12 months = ZERO Thank You's… Bloody Hell!

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

My friend recently told me that last year she donated $100 to a different nonprofit each month for 12 months. I thought, “Wow, that’s lovely and generous”. Then, she told me that in all that time and in the months since, she has not received a single thank you letter!!! Not gonna lie, I used a profanity to describe my shock and disappointment.

As sad as it makes me, I do know how this happens. Nonprofit directors are caught up in the urgent needs of the day. There are always fires to put out. You struggle to check the mailbox and deposit the checks let alone log and send thank you's to donors. You are pulled in 1,000 directions every day and things like this slip through the cracks. I get it. I really do!

I cannot stress to you enough the importance of saying thank you. That’s why when I work with a nonprofit client, we talk a lot about process simplification and automation. So, it doesn’t have to be one more thing you have to think about. It’s just gets done!

Here are a few simple guidelines for your donor appreciation:

1. Send it Timely.

If it’s an online donation, the donor should be directed to a thank you screen upon hitting Submit.

  • This screen should offer links to your website and social media.

  • This is usually simple to set up in most online donation portals, but this is so often a missed opportunity to educate and engage donors – don’t skip this step in your setup!

If it’s an online donation, the donor should immediately receive a thank you email.

  • This email should include the tax-deductible language including the date and amount of the donation, your tax ID and contact information in case they have a question.

  • This email should include links to your website and social media. This is usually simple to set up in most online donation portals, but this is so often a missed opportunity to educate and engage donors.

  • Don’t forget in this email you can include a program of thank you video, promote your next event and more – don’t skip this step in your setup!

For all donations, you should send a hard copy thank you letter within one week. My preference is within three business days.

  • A hard copy receipt for an online donation might seem like duplication, but you should always assume the email will get lost because these days, they often do. And no one is going to object to too many thank yous!

  • A process I have used for a few clients:

  1. Have an admin person (or volunteer) check the mail and log the donations.

  2. Have an admin person merge your thank you letters once a week (online and offline gifts.)

  3. Have the admin print and place the letters in a “special colored folder” on your desk.

  4. Block one hour on your calendar each week to sign letters, write little notes to donors, volunteers, board etc., and make donor calls.

  5. Give the folder back to the admin to postage and mail promptly.

  6. Make sure copies of the checks and any pertinent communications tat came with the donation get logged into your donor database.

2. Make it Personal.

The IRS mandate is that all completed donations greater than $250 value should receive a tax-deductible receipt.

If you want donors to give again and again, then I suggest you send a hand-signed thank you, always, regardless of the amount.

  • In my experience, if someone gives $50, they can usually afford $150, if they give $250 they can usually afford $500+.

  • Donors will test you out. I have a major donor who I noticed made $100 donation to a new client. Now, that same donor had JUST made a $25K gift to another one of my nonprofit clients. I also know he is capable of a $1 million dollar gift. He was testing this organization to see if they are worthy of a future investment. Don’t dismiss a small donation because you never know what the donor is actually capable of!

I also do not recommend the thank you letter be signed by the Director of Development. If your CEO is too busy, then ask a Board member or even a program director — anyone else is better in my opinion! d. For more creative ways to thank and engage your donors, check out my blog “Ways to say TY”. It’s an oldie but a goodie!

Look, this doesn’t have to be overly complicated, and you don’t have to feel like you are always behind the 8-ball. Put a process in place, assign others to help you, automate what you can and set aside just a smidge of untouchable time. If you do this, I promise you will see your donations grow steadily!

Quick check list for donor appreciation

1. Customize your Thank You screen for online donations.

2. Customize your Thank you email for online donations.

3. Send a hand signed Thank you letter / tax receipt within 3-7 business days.

4. Send personal handwritten notes or call the donor(s) on a weekly basis.

5. Add new donors to your donor communications (newsletter) list.

P.S. Yes, I have been watching Ted Lasso and British slang is my new favorite!

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