By Joyce Penland, CFRE
As we mark the fourth quarter of the year—typically the most charitable time of the year—we’re reminded that thanking is an essential element of the “giving circle” of cultivating, asking, and stewarding our donors. We would argue that the “thanking” portion of the giving circle is the MOST important part of successful fundraising.
Thanking, appreciating, and genuinely recognizing donors for their gifts is vitally important to our work and is one of the ways the organizations we represent can excel and set themselves apart from every other nonprofit.
Let’s reflect on a moment when YOU felt sincerely thanked and appreciated for a gift you made to a nonprofit. What gesture, what action that the organization took made you feel you truly made a difference?
I polled my colleagues here at Lee + Associates, a group of fundraising experts who have been in the asking and thanking business for a long time, and asked them about a time they most felt appreciated. Here are their responses.
Marion Lee – From my San Antonio Area Foundation days, nonprofit organizations would give us plaques, handprints from children, photos and awards to express their thanks. All of them were wonderful and many of them were creative, but nothing surpassed a simple, handwritten letter we received at Thanksgiving. It came from John Karger, Last Chance Forever, Bird of Prey Conservancy. He took the time to thank the staff and the board of directors by name and he also thanked my board chair and specifically thanked the board team, again, by name, who were present at the grant ceremony. In five years of giving away millions of dollars to nonprofit organizations, very few nonprofit staff and board members ever remembered our names. The letter made such an impression that it was kept in my office on a little stand and sometimes I would find staff members reading it. It meant a lot to us.
Alexis De Sela – I appreciate it when I receive a timely response that states the amount and how the donation was used. Letters or notes signed with an actual signature and a “thank you” written to the side is also appealing to me. I don’t personally look for an elaborate thanks, but the timeliness and having all the necessary information for IRS purposes is important to me.
Amy Phipps – I feel most thanked when the acknowledgement comes quickly and is personalized. I know that they have received my donation and that it is immediately being put to use. A handwritten note, even brief, is always appreciated because of the personal connection I feel to the organizations I give to. Merced Housing does a great job with this. A small note card with a color photograph of one of their clients appears in the mail very soon after my donation has gone off, and it contains all the necessary IRS language along with a personal note from the Executive Director. I feel connected to the clients whose lives are being improved by Merced’s work, and I gain a better understanding of how my donation is part of that.
Karen Kegg – I worked on my son, Steve’s, school’s carnival committee and also worked on the school’s directory at the same time. The PTA executive board sent out a thank you letter and all personally signed it for my efforts. I appreciated it!
Shannon Kingman – For some years now, I have supported an organization that protects the poor from violence in the developing world. Several years into supporting the organization, I received a beautifully framed photograph as a thank you gift. In the photograph are several clients served by this wonderful organization. I greatly appreciated the gesture of thanks; the framed photograph is a beautiful reminder of the organization and its mission.
Joyce Penland – A few years ago made a modest gift to a local cancer treatment facility and a few days later received a voicemail message on my home answering machine. A volunteer had left a simple message saying “Your gift is helping to save lives.” That really moved me. I don’t think I had ever received such a simple, heartfelt message…and coming from an unpaid volunteer made it even nicer.
In conclusion, a thoughtful, timely and personal approach works best when thanking your donors and volunteers. Showing sincere appreciation can ensure that your nonprofit “rises to the top” when donors consider renewing their support to your organization.