Thu, August 12 2010

How to say thanks - and surprise and delight your supporters

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Fundraising essentials •

One thing most fundraisers lack is sufficient gratitude.  Seriously.  We spend so much time chasing new gifts and the next donation that we forget to pay homage to the people who have given to us all along.  This is bad: The number one reason people stop donation to a charity is how they were treated by the charity.

We must change.

In fundraising, we tend to focus on what we can extract from our donors. Instead, we should focus on what we can give our donors: gratitude, social impact, good feelings. Thank people more and the money will follow.

It is a very personal, emotional choice to give away money to something you care about. You, as the organization these donors support, want to handle those strong feelings of your donor with care. They have acted in a way that is deeply meaningful to them. If the only way we react to their gift is with a tax receipt, we’re not only being rude, we’re being disrespectful.

It is far easier to keep and cultivate a donor than to go find a new one and convince them to care about your cause. That’s one reason to give thanks early and often in your online outreach. Another is that your gratitude bonds the donor to your cause. And, because most nonprofits stink at online relationship-building, if you are good, you are going to stand out. 

So how do you stand out?

An amazing nonprofit shared this story with us.  Get inspired – and get grateful.

We (my husband & I) run a small non-profit in Harlem, NY that supports youth in the Harlem community through giving them a chance to change their lives by understanding the discipline and power that come from practicing a martial art.  We say that my husband is the face of our organization and the head instructor and I am all the other stuff.  Our staff includes 9 additional board members of which 3 are active students and a sister of one of our students volunteers her time in the office 6-8 hours a week.  (Basically, our board is our staff and our staff is our board!)  We are very small.

Our membership includes regular paying members as well as scholarship students.  One of our members just finished her training to become a non-profit consultant.  She did a SWOT analysis for us and came up with a few suggestions, her first being Donor Recognition.  This was at the end of December.  Since I wear 7 different hats for the non-profit, work a full time job, and have 2 young boys, I just couldn’t imagine putting something like that in place even though she said it would be relatively easy.

2009 was an extremely tough year for us and we were concerned that we might not make it through this year.  One of our board members began a campaign among their contacts to “Save” our programs, by asking them to donate a scholarship, $1,440 for the year.  It was right around this time that I downloaded the Non-profit 911 Donor Thank You presentation by Katya and Jocelyn Harmon.  After listening to that, I realized how important saying thank you is and I immediately began designing a Thank you card that we could send to all our donors.  Once the card was designed, I emailed it to the board with a note saying we needed to get some sort of Donor Recognition in place.  They loved it.  We decided that anyone would receive a thank you card within 2 weeks of their donation regardless of the amount they donated.  For those that donated a full scholarship, a picture of the student that received the scholarship would be included.  All cards are personalized with a note from a board member.  (You should receive one shortly.)

Best thing we ever did was invest in a color laserjet printer.  We keep a stack of pre-printed cards and envelopes ready so all we have to do is write the note and put the address on the envelope.  It takes less than 5 minutes!  We are also lucky in the fact that some of our board members are also students, so there is at least one other board member there at any given time so I am not always the one writing the notes.  As long as we do it right away, then we are able to keep up with it.  I have authorized our volunteer to keep me in line with that.  I think that is the key.  Not letting things get piled up so that you start to feel overwhelmed and then don’t do anything at all! 

The second part of the thank you campaign, was to send out an email newsletter to all our previous supporters (here is the link to our first one).  The first was entirely focused on saying Thank you for their support over the past years.  It included the poem that is part of our Thank You card.  It was sent to our 422 email contacts, of which 85 opened it.  Of those 85, 7 replied saying thank you to us for saying thank you, and 2 of them committed to donating again.  Another lady I work with actually said to me at work that the newsletter we sent out was so nice and she looks forward to making a donation as soon as she receives her tax return!  Even though the numbers are very small, for us they are huge and we learned an important lesson - it is never too late to say Thank You!

Our challenge is now to follow-up on those first thank yous by keeping our donors updated on the progress of their student (if they donated a full scholarship) and all donors on the progress of the program in general.  We are starting work on our next newsletter in which we will be highlighting the scholarship students that will complete their belt promotion test in a couple of weeks and how 12 NEW children have been able to join our program because of our donors support.  Another piece of the donor cultivation and retention puzzle!

I personally have found it easier to stay on top of things when there is excitement about what we are doing and sharing the successes of our program certainly keeps people excited.  As long as we keep our goals and expectations reasonable, we are able to accomplish them without feeling like we are reaching for the impossible.

I hope that our success can inspire others to realize how easy it really can be and how the simple things can go a long way.  Thanks again for the work you all do.


  • Comment: (16)   



I really enjoyed reading your blog.  As a fellow fundraiser, I also believe that the “thank you” is so critical!

My rule of thumb:  at least 3 meaningful thank you’s prior to another gift solicitation.

I think the examples you have provided clearly qualify as “meaningful.”  Your suggestions are personalized, express gratitude, and share impact.

Keep up the great work!

Posted by Jessica Journey  on  08/15  at  01:34 AM

Whoa! this is absolutely true!^;^

Posted by Sandy White  on  08/15  at  05:49 AM

As always another great blog post!

Posted by jacobmang  on  08/16  at  03:32 AM

Great blog.  I have been involved in many fund raising projects as I create promotional videos.  The last fund raising promotional video I created was for a planned orphanage in Fiji.  This kind of project fills the hearts of those who give to it.  Updates will be shared with those who donate so not only progress reports on the building itself will be given but progress of the children.  A gift that keeps on giving.  You can the orphanage video on my site here

Posted by Josh  on  08/16  at  05:04 AM

Yes, making someone happy always helps more.

Posted by Evan Duran  on  08/16  at  06:22 AM

I really enjoyed reading your blog.  As a fellow fundraiser, I also believe that the “thank you” is so critical!

Posted by Stephen C. Teed  on  08/17  at  09:39 AM

wow thank you for this wonderful post ..............

Posted by James Martin  on  08/19  at  05:24 PM

Very wonderful post!!! keep it going!

Posted by huppy21  on  08/21  at  02:07 AM

What a great post!  I think it’s very easy to get wrapped up in the chasing donations and trying to meet goals.  Recognizing that thank you’s go such a long way is very true!

Posted by Tina  on  08/24  at  03:53 PM

Thank you for sharing the inspiring story.

Posted by Tom  on  08/27  at  08:07 AM

This does work.  I have been on the receiving end of effective thank yous and it did make me feel good about the gift.  I have also given again because of a story about what was done with a previous donation.

Posted by Kurt  on  08/28  at  04:28 AM

It is always important for the contributor to know they are appreciated. If they don’t think they are appreciated they will not be willing to give again. Or they will look to contribute where they think are appreciated. That probably is the reason so many things are named after people. They give when they get the glory they may be expecting.

Posted by Dewey  on  08/30  at  10:40 PM

Wow this is so great!

Posted by louisegwap  on  09/05  at  04:06 PM

Another great post.

Posted by linamylin  on  09/05  at  04:18 PM

I’ve just stumbled across your blog now, and wanted to thank you for some great reminders. Although many of the points you cover I have heard and agreed with many times in the past, and in fact recommended to my clients, it’s always good to be reminded, as we sometimes in our haste overlook some of the ‘fundamentals’ - acknowledging and appreciating our supporters is one of these fundamentals that I believe we would all do well to routinely undertake.

Posted by Philip Brookes  on  09/13  at  04:37 PM

This is a really good reminder.  I’m involved with a production company that hosts events which raise money for farious charities.  I’m going to our website NOW to post a thank you to all supporters.  Gratitude is really the key to success, happiness and especially longevity.

Posted by Elizabeth  on  09/18  at  08:51 PM

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