You know that your donor thank-you letters are much more effective if you mail them within 48 hours of when you receive a donation. But, if you're like many of the frustrated fundraisers I hear from, your inspiring thank-you letters may be sitting around on the desk of a very busy executive director or CEO who wants to personally sign each one.
Sound familiar? Here are some ideas to help you fix this common problem.
1. Ask your ED or CEO to forgo signing all the letters and instead make a personalized note on the thank you letters to five donors whom you want to give special recognition. These may not necessarily be the five donors who gave the most. Instead, they could include:
- The donor who has been giving the longest,
- Your youngest donor – a youth or early career adult. Think someone who is striving to make a difference even if they haven’t “made it” yet,
- A donor who has been going through a difficult time, but continues giving to the community
- A donor that you know stretched to reach a giving goal
- A donor who has been making a significant volunteer contribution
- Any other donor that has gone out of their way to support your organization in some way that is new for them.
With this approach, you will be nurturing a culture where donors of all dollar levels are valued and effort is made to create a personal touch. You will also be reducing the amount of time your top leadership needs to carve out and speeding up the pace at which you can send out the bulk of your thank-you letters.
Bonus tip: Set a 20-minute appointment with your ED or CEO to update her about each of the five donors you selected. That way she can sign the letter and write something personal on it at that moment, and you’ll leave her office with your letters ready to mail.
2. Schedule a signing party for periods when you expect a high volume of donations – like on December 31. Hand around the letters and have a handful of donor-facing staff all sign the letter with a short note like “Thanks so much for your support, Mary.” Schedule your leader to sign the letters at the party. Bring in food and make it a bit of a morale booster for staff too.
3. Raise the issue as something that donors are asking for, not something that you want. Just make sure you’re able to back this up truthfully. Whenever you hear a donor say she didn’t know if her donation had been received or she was wondering how and when she would get her tax receipt, make a note of it and let your well-intentioned leader know that the donors are asking for prompt acknowledgement.
4. Have studies about donor retention and the importance of acknowledging a donation within 48 hours ready for your ED or CEO to see. (You can start by looking up Penelope Burk's classic work on donor-centered fundraising.) Your boss may not immediately accept your advice on the issue, but she’s less likely to argue with hard data or with actual donor requests.
If all efforts fail and you can’t persuade your busy CEO or ED to forgo signing each thank you letter before it’s sent, don’t panic. Try implementing a two-stage thank you process. Enlist volunteers to make a short call and personally thank donors for their gift – within 48 hours of when you received it. During the call let donors know that an official letter will be coming by mail.
In fact, having volunteers make thank you phone calls to new donors is a great practice. Consider extending this practice to include your returning annual fund donors if you can’t get the thank-you letters out right away.
One more suggestion. Determine where other possible hold-ups are in your process for receiving, recording and recognizing donations. At her blog, Claire Axelrad does a great job of outlining some of the potential hold-ups and giving you tips for dealing with them.
Looking for tips on what to include in your letters? See some suggestions in my previous post.
What has worked for you? How do you make sure your thank-you letters are prompt and your donors know they are appreciated and making a difference?