Why “Thank-You” Must Be More Than a Gesture

By: Jennifer L. HippleCommunications Consultant

When I was a kid, my mother always sat me down after my birthday or Christmas, with paper and pen, to write thank-you notes to my aunts and grandmothers for the gifts they sent. At the time I disliked the task. I didn’t know what to write beyond, “Thank you for the sweater. It is really nice.” But as I grew older, the task became easier as I came to understand the importance of showing gratitude for the thoughtfulness of others.

The hand-written thank-you note: Does anyone send them anymore or did the gesture go the way of the rotary dial telephone? Isn’t it just so much easier to send a quick email? That is, if we think of it?

Do donors really want to receive thank-you’s? Don’t they want us to reserve our resources for our mission? Yes, donors do want (and need) to be acknowledged. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot. First, a thank-you assures a donor their gift was received. It also lets them know their donation (no matter the amount) is of value to you. Thank-yous also illustrate that your organization is well run increasing the likelihood that they’ll want to continue supporting it. Sending a thank-you need not be an expensive endeavor and the cost and time expended will yield dividends. Showing gratitude can help increase donor loyalty to your organization as well as lead to increased donations.

Minimally, donors deserve timely and simple—but heartfelt appreciation—from your organization and confirmation of the difference their gift will make. Thanking them quickly, within a few days after receiving a donation, is one of the best ways to nurture a relationship with your donors. Donors who feel connected to an organization are more likely to make repeat gifts.

Bottom line? Extending a prompt thank-you as part of your regular routine helps provide a foundation for success.

The basics of a "Thank-You" note 1) Make it personal. Customize your thank-you with details your donor will appreciate such as thanking them for responding to a specific “ask” or attending a recent event, if appropriate. Don’t use a boiler plate thank-you. Take a few minutes to craft a custom message.

2) Make it timely! Don’t wait two months before you send a thank-you (your mother would be disappointed by your tardiness). Thank-yous should go out within two weeks of receiving the donation. The longer you wait the less sincere the thank-you seems.

3) Share a couple details of how the gift will make a difference in the work you’re doing (or your mission). This makes donors feel good about being part of something bigger.

If the donor is new, consider that this gift could be the first of many that will grow in size over time. Make your thank-you especially meaningful and memorable. What may have started as a passing interest could be developed into a lifelong connection with your new donor. Nurture that relationship. Show gratitude in your thank-you note and make the donor feel noticed and appreciated whether this is their first or twenty-first donation. And remember that this is not the time to ask for more money. However, when it does come time to ask for an additional gift, if you’ve nurtured a relationship, your donor will be happy to give again.

Making a call is another quick way to thank donors. Again, your board members should help the executive director in doing this. Hearing a friendly and appreciative voice helps a donor feel great about their decision to support your work.

Tell the world! You can also consider thanking your larger donors (if they’re okay with being publicly recognized) in your next newsletter, on Facebook, and/or in your next annual report. Include a photo if you can or their company’s logo. You could also add a special donor appreciation section to your website. Posting a message shares your thank-you to a broad audience and illustrates your organization’s culture of gratitude.

Saying thank-you to your donors is a must and if you do it right they will continue to give and will actually be happier providing you with additional support than when they made their first gift. They won’t consider it an obligation but rather an honor to support your work.