Two Most Important Words in Philanthropy

by Klara Grape z"l, Mentor, JCamp 180

Let's start with a quick quiz: What are the two most important words in philanthropy?
  • Donate Now
  • Please Help
  • Thank You
All three phrases are used frequently as we solicit gifts, connect with donors and build relationships. However, one choice listed above has the power to both enhance and weaken your donor relations efforts.
If you guessed "Thank You", you're correct.
We all know that saying "thank you" is important. And we personally love receiving a heartfelt thank you for our own generosity. But during the day-to-day crunch to request annual gifts, recruit people to attend our events and ramp up for camp each summer, Thank You letters can often drift down the To -Do list. We are all well-intentioned. Yet, how many of us have looked at the calendar and thought, "Oh no! Our event was 6 weeks ago and we've only sent out the first 10 Thank You notes and have another 100 to go?" Do you wonder, "Will they notice?" Of course they do…and so should we.

Does it REALLY Matter?
Successful philanthropy and donor relations depends on a lot of elements and too often expressing "thank you" can fall off our radar or at least get lost in our peripheral vision. Yet, real consequences arise from this lapse. Research shows that promptly and properly thanking donors not only shows appreciation for their generosity, but can even increase their connection to your organization and potentially increase their future giving.

Here are several statistics to prove the point:
  • In a recently published study, "one in three donors {33%} polled said that they were less likely to give again to organizations that are late in acknowledging gifts" (The 2013 Burk Donor Survey).
  • Other studies indicate that nonprofits see a significant drop off in donor giving after the first gift, some at rates over 50%.
  • Up to 80% of donors polled say receiving a prompt and meaningful thank you that includes follow-up results will ensure a second gift (The 2013 Burk Donor Survey).

In addition to timely Thank You responses, the quality and tone of the content is equally important when it comes to influencing donors' decisions to make a future contribution to your camp.
Twenty-three percent (23%) of donors polled noted that receiving what they considered an exceptional Thank You letter influenced them to make a more generous gift in the future. And the rationale behind this was entirely or partly resulting from the high quality manner in which the organization acknowledged their previous gift (The 2013 Burk Donor Survey).
Making Your Thank You Letters Shine
So what makes a "Thank You" high quality? I'm glad you asked.
  • Donors appreciate Thank You letters that:
  • Are promptly written. A 48 hour turnaround from receiving the gift to sending out a Thank You letter is currently the best practice.
  • Are written directly to them. Be sure to include their name in the address and salutation.
  • Grab the donor's attention in the first line, because most people skim letters.
  • Acknowledge how their gift will make the program, project or activity a big success. Donors want to hear about results from their giving.
  • Use language and tone that is personal, so that the donor feels connected to both the event/program and camp. For example, choose language that helps the donor feel as if you are talking directly to her or him, as opposed to reading a form letter.
  • Communicate excitement. Making a donation is your donor's opportunity to partner with his or her kids, family members and you in making camp the best it can be. It's good to let them feel part of something positive and compelling.
  • Acknowledge both the current gift and past giving. If you can, add the current gift amount and recognize past giving in the letter.
  • Do not ask for another gift; just focus on appreciation and gratitude.
  • Show genuine heartfelt appreciation. Don't confuse a confirmation letter or an invoice with a Thank You letter. The two serve different purposes. The former meets transactional and IRS requirements, but doesn't demonstrate gratitude for your donor's generosity. Specific language gift receipt language for IRS purposes may be added to the footer of a letter.
Now you may be wondering, "Do we do this for every donation, even the $18 gifts?" Certainly many of these principles are universal when thanking your donors. However, it can become unsupportable to give this level of attention to all gifts at all levels. So, writing well-crafted letters and creating efficient systems and procedures for thanking your donors is critical. In future articles, we'll review how to create high quality Thank You letters, efficient systems and the various channels you can use to express gratitude to your donors.