The most important factor in whether a first-time nonprofit donor comes back to make a second donation probably isn’t what you think it is. It’s not the storytelling, the “ask,” how convenient it was to make a donation, or the worthiness of the cause. It’s the thank you. In fact, donors who receive a personal thank you within 48 hours of making their donation are four times more likely to make a second donation.
Showing gratitude is an essential part of a strong fundraising program. And as we wrap up #GivingTuesday and head into the critical year-end period, thanking donors is especially important. Here’s how to thank donors, so they’ll be inspired to continue supporting your work.
1. Make it personal
In an age when everyone spends their day plugged into their devices, it’s easy for nonprofits to develop an over-reliance on thanking donors digitally. Mightycause has several ways you can send a digital thank you, from adding a message to their emailed receipt to building a Thank You page. And while sending a thank you email is certainly advisable, it shouldn’t be where the gratitude ends. Thanking donors is all about building relationships with them — and you can’t build a relationship with marketing emails. You’ve got to get personal.
Pick up the phone
If you want to retain more donors and build better relationships with your supporters, give them a call! A simple phone call that lasts about a minute or two can make all the difference in whether a donor comes back to support you again.
And while calling donors can feel like a time-consuming task, it isn’t any more complex than sending them an email. Tap your development staff or volunteers, board members, or program staff to make phone calls. (You can rotate responsibility, or tag in a mixture of folks from these groups.) Provide a list of names, phone numbers, and a script.
Here’s a sample script:
“Hi [Donor Name]! My name is [Your Name] and I’m a [board member, volunteer, development assistant, etc.] at [Nonprofit Name]. I’m calling to thank you for your recent donation to [campaign, project, etc.]! It will make a huge difference for our work and I wanted to call to personally thank you for your support, it means a lot to us!”
The vast majority of calls will go to voicemail, but if someone does pick up, it can be helpful to provide some follow up questions for the callers so your nonprofit can get to know the donor a little better. Find out how they found out about your campaign, what drew them to your nonprofit, and/or why they care about your cause.
You can prioritize first-time donors, donors over a certain amount, or donors you haven’t called before to keep the workload manageable. You can opt into collecting phone numbers in your Mightycause Checkout Flow so you won’t miss the opportunity to call any donors!
Send a personal note
After a big campaign, sending a personal thank you from your staff is a great way to make donors feel appreciated and start building a solid relationship with them. This can be done over email, but sending an actual handwritten note adds that extra personal touch that can make a huge difference to donors.
This can be done surprisingly quickly! Print out a list of donor names and provide it to the people who will be writing the notes. (Your executive director or board members are especially effective for this kind of thank you.) If you want to make it even easier, you can provide a script for them to speed up the process. Here’s a sample thank you note:
“Dear [Donor Name],
Thank you so much for your recent donation to [campaign, program, etc.]. We are so grateful to have you as a supporter, and your gift will be used to [do something related to your cause]. Because of you, we will be able to continue our work to [describe cause] into 2023 and work toward our goal of [describe goal].
We truly appreciate your generosity!
Now, as a best practice, keep your thank you note separate from your receipt. (And on Mightycause, donors are automatically emailed a receipt after completing their donation, so sending an additional receipt is not necessary.) You’re reaching out in gratitude, not to complete a transaction.
When to send a personal note
- After a fundraising campaign, such as #GivingTuesday
- At the end of the year / winter holidays
- When a donor sets up a recurring donation
- On the anniversary of a donor’s first donation
2. Mail them your thanks
The average person receives over 100 emails per day. Inbox overload is so intense that entire technologies and methods have been developed just to manage it. So, emails are a dime a dozen in many cases. And that’s why sending your donors a thank you through the mail can help you avoid being archived or sent to a folder as soon as you reach out.
A hallmark of a good fundraising program is making donors feel like they’re part of an exclusive club. Donors to big nonprofits like Susan G. Komen, the ASPCA, St. Jude, and Shriner’s Hospital wear their keychains, bumper sticks, t-shirts, and other tokens of appreciation like badges of honor. And a welcome packet is a great to build that feeling in your donors.
The reason this is a successful way to engage donors is that one of the reasons donors choose to give is identity. They think of themselves as a person who, for example, cares deeply about the health and well-being of children, and they demonstrate that by donating to a nonprofit that helps children with cancer. So, items and materials that make them feel like a part of a group of people that care about the same issue makes them feel seen, and gets them invested.
A welcome packet can include some educational materials, more information about your programs and services, and even a little tchotchke or token. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive! For instance, if your nonprofit is an animal rescue, a photograph and a story about an animal in your care can be a great way to demonstrate your impact and connect with a donor on an emotional level. Some nonprofits work with local business to get discounts on things like t-shirts, bumper stickers, and other small tokens of appreciation and/or membership.
You can include a thank you letter or note in a welcome packet, or send it separately. It’s up to you!
There are definitely donors who don’t want any recognition for their support, but they’re the exception, not the rule. The amount of public recognition donors want is a spectrum that swings from being completely anonymous to having an entire building named after themselves; most people fall somewhere in the middle. While we don’t recommend that public recognition be your only avenue to appreciate donors, it’s a great addition to any stewardship plan!
Where to acknowledge donors
This will vary a lot from organization to organization, but here are some common places nonprofits will publicly acknowledge donors:
- Newsletter: Most often, this is a printed newsletter. Nonprofits will list donors in the newsletter, and often list donations that were made in honor of someone else, and memorial donations.
- Lobby: Having a display with donor names is a common way for nonprofits pay tribute to their donors. It’s often as simple as writing the names of donors on decorative pieces of paper and creating an attractive, eye-catching display.
- Website: Your nonprofit’s website is an easy place to publish a list of your donors, or at least give a shoutout to your recurring and/or high-level donors! To keep it manageable, you can rotate the list of donors on a monthly or quarterly basis.
At the end of a year or the beginning of a new year, most nonprofits are putting together reports for the board of directors and stakeholders. But a donor-focused annual report is a great way to show donors the impact of their donations and your work! While you’re pulling the statistics and numbers for your higher-ups, also pull some facts and figures that would be powerful to share with your donors.
Many nonprofits that print annual reports for donors dedicate space to listing their donors, to give them a shoutout and emphasize that they made all of the successes listed in the report possible.
You can also create and send a digital report, if printing and mailing a report is cost-prohibitive! Just be sure to dedicate a space dedicated to your donors.
4. Build gratitude into your fundraising strategy
Thanking and appreciating your donors on an ongoing basis is essential to retaining donors. And it costs less to retain an existing donor than to acquire a new one, so time, money, and effort spent thanking your donors is well-spent.
That’s why a fundraising plan is not complete without thanking donors. Build donor appreciation and gratitude into your organization’s fundraising operations. Get your staff and volunteers involved!
The real key to thanking your donors effectively is to make it a priority, and part of your routine, instead of an afterthought or something you scramble to do after a campaign. Donors that feel appreciated and valued on an ongoing basis are likely to stick with your organization for the long-haul and provide support for years to come.
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