Finding new donors is one of the primary objectives for your nonprofit organization. But keeping the donors you already have is just as important.
Americans give over $400 billion a year to charities and that number is steadily increasing. Yet over the past decade, donor retention rates have consistently been poor — averaging below 50%. In a perfect world, nonprofits would not only add new donors on a regular basis, they'd keep their current ones, too.
So what can you do to keep your bevy of benefactors happy? You can begin with well-crafted, handwritten thank you notes for their donations. Many organizations don't send handwritten thank yous because they don't realize how important they are in building a relationship with a donor. Don't be that organization. The Chronicle of Philanthropy says thanking your donors is not only good manners, it's vital in turning one-time donors into regular supporters. And further research shows that first-time donors were almost 40% more likely to give another gift if they received a handwritten note after the first one.
Now it's time for you to start composing those handwritten notes. Here's how to write a thank you card for a donation.
Say Thank You Soon After the Gift Arrives
You've heard the phrase "Time is of the essence." When you apply it to your thank you cards, you're increasing your chances of retaining your donors. So don't wait too long to send out that acknowledgement. Do it within two weeks (worst case), but preferably within a couple days of receiving the gift. In other words, the sooner the better. This level of promptness quickly alerts your donor that you did, in fact, receive their gift. But it also lets them know their gift is important to you and that you sincerely appreciate it.
You want to let them know that they're special and not just another donor. There's even a bit of psychology involved. When the donor receives your note, it provides them with positive feelings—even a chemical high. This will help you create a transformational relationship with them. If you don't respond quickly, you'll get a delayed reaction. This will minimize the "feel good moment."
According to nonprofit information gurus GuideStar, if you send a thank you card for a donation to a first-time donor within two days, they'll be much more likely to give again. That should be all the incentive you need to get that thank you card in the mail as quickly as possible.
Remind Your Donor How They Helped a Cause
It's not enough to remind a donor how much money they gave to your nonprofit. You should also emphasize how important the gift is to the cause they're supporting. Tell them how much their generosity means and what a difference it will make. Be as specific as you need to be so they can understand the impact of their giving.
Donor relations guru Lynn M. Webster says that many nonprofits don't take the time to tell donors about the impact of their gift. That's precisely why you should explain to them where the money went—and be explicit. Make the donor the hero in a story of giving and generosity. When you give donors the story of their money, you'll increase the chances that they'll give again. In fact, use both storytelling and data, if possible. This will yield the maximum fundraising results.
Focus on the Thanks, Not Another Gift
When you're sending a thank you card for a donation, it's important to focus strictly on saying thanks for the gift itself. Don't try to accomplish anything else. There will be a different place and time to ask a current donor for another gift or to tell them about an upcoming event, but now is not that time. Put all your efforts into thanking them and letting them know about the impact their gift is making.
Personalize the Thank You Card for a Donation
This seems like a no-brainer, but always make sure to personalize your thank you card for a donation. To be clear, this means more than using the donor's name. In fact, it's more about the tone of your message. Yes, you should address the note to the donor specifically. Use their name, but be sincere in your message throughout. Show genuine emotion with down-to-earth writing and don't be afraid to use an exclamation point or two if you think it's warranted.
Do not, however, under any circumstances, begin your letter with: "Dear Donor." Ugh. This will spoil any personal connection you're attempting to establish with them. According to Penelope Burk, author of the best-selling fundraising industry book "Donor-Centered Fundraising," there are 20 characteristics of a great fundraising letter. Not surprisingly, the word "personally" is peppered throughout her list.
Example: Thank You Card for a Donation
Let's say a donor sent you a gift in support of your animal rescue foundation. We'll call it Acme Animal Shelter. A thank you card for a donation could look something like this:
Dear [Donor’s first name],
Thank you for your thoughtful gift to Acme Animal Shelter. We're so grateful to have your support. Please know that with your generous donation, you're touching the lives of every animal that enters our shelter.
You're not only helping to supply the food they need to stay strong and healthy. You're also supplying the bedding in their kennel so they have a warm, safe place to sleep. And you're providing for a host of other amenities, from electricity and water, to toys and treats. You truly make the difference for our shelter and our animals until we can find a permanent home for them. For that, we're extremely thankful to you!
If you have any questions about how your gift is being used or Acme Animal Shelter as a whole, please reach out to me anytime at [contact information].
[Your name and title], Acme Animal Shelter
Highlight the Donor's Ongoing Support (if Applicable)
Do you have donors with a history of giving to your organization? They deserve special praise, don't you think? If you answered "Yes," you're correct. Take monthly donors as an example. Monthly donors are special because they've made a regular commitment to gift-giving. That's why you should be sure to acknowledge that they're regular supporters.
You could amend the previous example letter by letting them know how much their ongoing support has meant to your nonprofit organization over time. You don't need to get carried away, but it's important to tell them you're aware of their continued efforts to help your cause.
There are a few other ways to continually thank them and keep them in the loop, too.
- Newsletters. Create special newsletters just for your monthly donors or include a letter with your regular mailings that references their ongoing support. If you send the same newsletter to all your donors, make sure you detail how to become a monthly donor.
- Publicly announce your monthly donors. One way to make your regular donors feel special is to acknowledge them publicly—perhaps in your newsletters and/or website. Of course, you'll need to honor their request for anonymity if they ask for it.
- Open house. Invite regular donors for tours (scheduled or at their leisure) or offer an inside look into the organization they're supporting. Make them feel special because they are.
Keep it Short and Simple
As you can see from the sample thank you card for a donation, you don't need to get wordy. The longer the letter, the more time it takes for the donor to read it. That turns your act of appreciation into a chore rather than a pleasant, quick scan. Focus on gratitude and impact.
Thank them for their gift—let them know how much you appreciate it and how you'll use the gift–and end it. That's the best-practice method to adhere to. When you keep your thank yous short and simple, you make the experience easier and more enjoyable for everyone.
Don't Include a Receipt for the Gift
When you send a thank you card for a donation, don't include a receipt for the donation. That's a common faux pax that can have a negative effect on your relationship with your donor. Why? It makes it look like you're only thanking them because of the size of the donation. Sure, the more a donor gives the better it is for your organization, but not everyone has the same means to give. Therefore, just let them know that you're thankful they donated to an important cause, regardless of the amount they gave.
Note: Yes, you should send a receipt for their gift. Just be sure to do it separately. In fact, while we're on the subject, let's look at five important elements to include in your receipt (in addition to your organization's name—a no brainer). These are the standards that are recommended by the IRS.
- The total amount of the gift.
- The description of the non-cash contribution.
- A statement that you didn't give the donor anything in return for their gift (if that's true).
- If there was a return, describe what it was and make an estimate of the value.
- If applicable, a statement that the goods or services you provided in return (if there were any) consisted entirely of intangible benefits.
Use Digital Handwriting Because it Looks Like the Real Thing
We've established that handwriting is the way to go when you're composing a thank you card for a donation. But what if you have a large number of donors? That's a good "problem" to have, of course, but it also means you need to spend more time thanking them. (Not to mention the fact that your hand might cramp up from all that writing.) There's an easier and more cost-effective way to manage this situation.
In this predominantly digital world we live in, a handwritten message stands out from all the emails and text messages we receive. With Simply Written, handwritten business notes are easy to create and send. Contact us to see how you can use a thank you card for a donation and create a customer for life.