We all learn as kids to say thank you when given a gift. And when a charity receives funding, it’s no different.
While it may seem like winning a grant is the hard part, getting money in the door is just the beginning of the charity-funder relationship. And offering your donor a prompt and heartfelt thank you is like your first date.
In fact, the speed and quality of your charity’s thank you often decide if and how much a funder will give to your organization in the future.
In a 2013 survey, 45% of American donors said receiving a wow-factor thank-you letter inspired them to give again, and another 23% gave more generously because of a meaningful letter.i
In this blog, you’ll learn the 10 essentials to creating an extraordinary thank you experience for your charity funders. You’ll also receive a FREE Thank You Essentials Checklist that’ll have you ready to deliver a wow-factor thanks the next time a cheque arrives in the mail.
#1. Timing is Everything
When it comes to expressing gratitude, there’s no such thing as too soon. A prompt thank you reinforces the charity funder’s decision to contribute and helps sustain the positive vibes they feel from making the gift.
High Value Thank You Calls
While the hallmark of donor acknowledgment is a thank-you letter, charity fundraisers have learned the value of a timelier expression of gratitude – the thank you call.
There’s plenty of research proving the value of these calls. Studies show the sooner you phone funders to say thanks, the higher their next gift is likely to be and the more quickly they’ll give again.ii
Industry best practice is to phone within 24-48 hours of receiving written confirmation of a donation. If you’re not able to reach a foundation by phone, leave a voice message, then send a prompt follow-up email to acknowledge the wonderful news.
If you implement one strategy from this blog, let it be this: start making thank-you calls to every funder who donates to your charity.
Snail Mail is Here to Stay
While donor thank you calls are a definite must-do, nothing can replace good old-fashioned snail mail. If anything, thank-you letters have become more meaningful as people increasingly communicate through email and social media.
Funders expect to receive a thank-you letter within 14 days of when a charity receives their cheque so have a letter in the mail within one week of getting the cash.
As North America’s top fundraising expert Penelope Burk explains, “a two-week turnaround (two days for electronic thank yous) is now considered by donors to be the … industry standard.”iii
#2. Funders Give More When Leaders Say Thanks
Whether it’s a letter, handwritten note, or call from your President or Board Chair, funders are happiest when someone in charge acknowledges their generosity.
In fact, a study of US funders found that receiving a thank you call from a board member within 48 hours of making a gift increased the donor’s next contribution by 39%!iv
Engage Your Leaders
Clearly, who says thank you matters. So, establish a process to ensure funders over a certain threshold receive, at minimum, a letter hand-signed by someone who holds a position of authority at your charity.
If your leadership is keen to do more, set aside a small group of thank you cards to handwrite and thank you calls to make to top funders on a regular basis.
Authenticity Matters Most
While charity funders like to be thanked by leadership, what matters most is ensuring every donor receives a warm, personal, and heartfelt thank you.
Charity funders are also savvy. They know the difference between a bespoke thank you and a mass-generated form letter with your director’s e-signature.
If a thank you from leadership isn’t possible, a genuine expression of gratitude from a staff member or volunteer beats a generic letter every time.
#3. Put the Funder’s Name in Lights
Most fundraising materials focus on sharing your organization’s amazing mission and life-changing impact on the world. But when it comes to thank-you letters, the funder is the star of the show.
To shift the attention from you to them, use donor-centered language and emphasize what the funder is helping your charity achieve.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Use you/your more than us/we
- Refer to the donor(s) by their first name(s) and repeat their name(s) several times in the letter
- Talk about what the funder(s) (not their gift) is helping you accomplish
For example, “The Robert James Clark Foundation’s grant of $5,000 is helping us save the lives of five dolphins” is less donor-centric than “Robert, through your grant, you are helping save the lives of five dolphins.”
And incorporate donor-centered key phrases in your letters:
- With this gift, you are saving the lives of 300 stray cats …
- Thanks to you, our free neuter/spay program is expanding to three new communities …
- You’re helping vulnerable kittens find love and safety in caring foster homes …
- Thank you for your shared commitment to seeing animals live their fullest potential …
- Without you, none of this work would be possible.
#4. Thank from the Heart
According to Burk’s 2013 survey of American funders, the key trait of an exceptional thank-you letter is a “warm, personal tone.” These letters stood out for US donors because they felt “like [the letter] was written just for” them.v
Writing with Warmth
Funders appreciate warm, genuine thank letters written from the heart. If accessing your innermost emotions is a challenge, try these simple tricks to bring forth the fuzzy feelings:
Imagine You’re Face to Face: Picture yourself sitting in a room with the donor expressing your gratitude. Think about what you’d say, and then write it down.
Reconnect with Your Why: Sometimes, refocusing on why you do what you do can help you connect with heartfelt gratitude for the funders who make your work possible.
Look to Those Around You: Including quotes from those who’ll benefit from a donor’s gift is an effective way to infuse warmth into your letters. You can also share a story about how life has been changed thanks to the generosity of charity funders.
Describe Your Reaction: Think back to the moment you found out the funding was confirmed. Connect with how the news made you feel and write from that place of excitement and thankfulness.
Keeping it Personal
Charity funders love personal thank-you letters written for their eyes only. But what do they mean by personal?
From Person to Person: At the simplest level, funders are looking for a letter written by a person to a person (them).
This means saying NO to generic form letters made out to “Dear Friend” and signed by “Your Charity.” Instead, refer to funders by their first names and sign the letter using your first name, too.
Skip the Formalities: It also means letting go of old-school salutations like “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and lofty language like “On behalf of ABC Foundation …”. Ditch the technical jargon and acronyms no one outside your field will understand.
In some cases, formal salutations are appropriate like when addressing elderly donors. A good rule is to follow the donor’s lead.
Handwrite It: Handwritten letters are the perfect personal touch. Including a short-handwritten note at the bottom of a typed thank-you letter has the same effect with less time investment.
#5. Customize Your Content
Creating a “just for you” thank you experience is easy to achieve when you include a funder’s giving history, recent interactions, and engagement with your charity in their thank-you letter.
Giving History: If a funder has given to your charity before, mention this in your letter and reiterate the impact of their past contributions.
Giving Patterns: Highlight the specific number of years a funder has supported your charity and give a special shout-out for their commitment. If it’s a foundation’s first grant to your organization, celebrate this too and thank them for trusting you as a philanthropic partner.
Other Gifts: If the funder is also a personal donor who makes monthly gifts, donates at special events, or plans to leave a gift in their will, be sure to express gratitude for these contributions as well.
Recent Interactions: Mention any significant touchpoints, like meetings, event attendance, or phone calls, between you or anyone at your charity and the funder over the past few months.
Gifts of Time and Service: In addition to financial support, many funders give their time as volunteers, board members, or champions for your cause. If a donor has gone above and beyond to help your charity, make sure to share your deep appreciation.
#6. Be Specific
A high-quality thank-you letter reiterates the exact gift amount, how the funds will be used, and how the foundation, through their contribution, is helping your charity address the problem at hand.
Based on thank-you letter research from the USA, making specific reference to how a funder’s gift will be used is among the top criteria of a “superior” acknowledgment letter.vi
The thank-you letter is your opportunity to reassure the funder their contribution is in good hands and that it will be used as proposed in your LOI or grant application.
#7. Share Your Next Steps
As you wind down your letter, make sure to tell the charity funder when they can expect to hear from you next.
While a formal impact report is typically sent after one year, it’s critical to keep donors regularly informed along the way.
Plan to provide funders with an informal progress update no later than 2 months after you’ve received their gift.
#8. Make it About More Than Money
Ideally, giving is just one piece of a charity funder’s engagement with your charity.
In thank-you letters, show donors you’re committed to building multi-faceted relationships by offering ways to connect with your organization, even after funds are in the bank.
For example, consider inviting top funders to a celebratory donor recognition event with your organization’s leadership. You can also include links to virtual presentations or invite them to project kick-offs.
#9. Offer a Way to Connect
Finally, include contact information in thank-you letters so funders can reach out if they have questions, concerns, or just want to chat. If you’re not consistently available, assign a colleague or staff member to take donor calls and direct them to you as needed.
#10. Thank You Letter Faux Pas (What NOT To Do)
Just as important as including the right ingredients in your funder thank-you letter is making sure you don’t add one of the wrong ones and spoil the whole experience.
First and foremost, it’s a huge faux pas to ask a funder to consider another contribution in a thank-you letter.
Second, steer clear of offering engagement opportunities that may come across as requests for the funder to do something for you.
For example, thank-you letters are NOT the time to ask a funder to:
- Sign up as a monthly supporter
- Attend an event that requires them to pay for tickets
- Fill out a survey
- Ask for a favor, like introducing you to someone
Third, keep your letters short and sweet. No longer than 1 page, but ideally ½ page or about 3 paragraphs.
What You Should Do Next
Let’s recap. The timeliness and quality of your charity’s funder thank you experience directly impacts if and how much they’ll again.
The next time a cheque lands on your desk, turn to the 10 essentials to give your funder the prompt, warm, and personal expression of gratitude they expect, then watch your fundraising revenue gradually increase.
To help you out, use the Thank You Essentials Checklist here:
Thank You Essentials Checklist – Top 10
As soon as a gift arrives, complete the following two tasks within the time frames below:
- Make Thank You call within 48 hours
- Mail thank-you letter within 7 days
Before dropping a Thank You Letter in the mail, review it carefully for the following essentials:
- Hand-signature from a leader
- Donor-centered language
- The warm and personal tone
- Customized content
- Specific reference to gift amount, use of funds, and anticipated impact
- When the funder can expect to receive updates
- Engagement opportunities beyond giving
- Contact information
- No thank-you letter faux pas
Got a question? We’ve got your simple funding solutions. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and your query could be the topic of our next post.
So there you have it! These essential tips will give your funders an exceptional thank-you experience and nurture a long-term relationship that could last lifetimes. If you’re ready to get serious about increasing your impact by making your fundraising more effective, schedule a complimentary Grant Research and Strategy Session with us today and learn how Grant Advance’s simple funding solution can help your charity!
By Laura Ralph, Fund Development Advisor
Laura is a writing wizard with more than a decade of experience in higher education and medical fundraising.
iv https://bloomerang.co/blog/actually-calling-donors-to-thank-them-does-make-them-more-likely-to-give-again-and-give-more/ The phone calls were made to new funders to the organization within 48 hours of their gift.