Don’t Let the First Donation Be the Last: 5 Tips for a Better Thank You Program

Pet-related pledge drives can help public broadcasters improve fundraising efforts.
Date Published
Ashlee Gay

Allegiance Fundraising recently went undercover as a “secret shopper,” making first-time gifts to 17 nonprofits – both large and small. We wanted to see firsthand how these nonprofits communicate with new donors as well as what and how often they mail.

Using insights from our study, we’ve put together 5 tips for improving your donor acknowledgement program.

  1. Be Timely
    Mail a thank you as soon as possible after receiving a gift. If someone made a donation online, an email is a great way to immediately confirm that a donation was received, but email is no substitute for a personal thank you letter! In our study, the shortest time it took to receive a thank you was 10 days and the longest was 40. Two-thirds of the acknowledgements we received came within three weeks. Think about how you can tighten up your process to get a thank you out sooner – every day counts!
  2. Be Personal
    Your thank you letter should be heartfelt and personal, not cold and transactional. You should include the standard tax-receipt language but save that for the footer so you keep it separate from your letter. The best example of “be personal” we found in our secret shopper study came from a nonprofit museum that wrote a very nice thank you letter keeping the focus on us (the donor). They used the phrase “your support” and “your gift” extensively throughout the letter to highlight how we were helping fulfill the nonprofit’s mission. This thank you note also included a hand-addressed outer envelope and a handwritten “thank you!” by way of the signature.
  3. Show the Donor’s Impact
    One of the best ways to keep a donor giving is to demonstrate how his/her gift has made an impact on your mission. The donor acknowledgement is a great place to start. One of the nonprofits in our study – a foodbank in a major metropolitan area – gave the specific number of meals that our donation would provide for hungry families. Another nonprofit, a national environmental organization, included a full-color brochure that highlighted the work it’s able to do thanks to donor contributions, along with specific examples of recent accomplishments.
  4. Make the Donor Feel Special
    Consider including a bumper sticker or window decal in the thank you – a little something extra the donor wasn’t expecting. One favorite example from our study was a nonprofit that assigned us a staff liaison and invited us to contact this person anytime we had questions or concerns. The amount of our contribution was just $25.
  5. Suggest the Next Step
    There’s a lot of debate in the fundraising community over whether it’s acceptable to ask for another gift in your acknowledgement. Ultimately, this depends on the culture of your organization. But that doesn’t mean you can’t suggest other steps to further the relationship with your donor in your acknowledgement. Invite the donor to connect with you on social media or tell a friend or family member about your organization and the work you do. Some of the nonprofits in our study included information about their monthly giving and planned giving programs, and several others included a reply envelope with no specific ask – a subtle way to ask for an additional gift. Whatever you decide is right for your nonprofit and your donors, don’t be afraid to recommend additional ways donors can help the organization and promote your mission.

So ask yourself: What can you do to shorten the amount of time it takes to send a thank you letter? And how might you go the extra mile to make your donors feel special?  Your donors are sure to notice the extra effort.

About the Author:
Ashlee Gay
Director, Digital Fundraising, Agency Services

Role at the Company

My primary responsibility is to work cross-functionally to execute day-to-day digital marketing and fundraising efforts within AFG. I also work closely with J.C. (VP Digital Fundraising) on the design and implementation of AFG’s internal and client focused full funnel strategy.

What excites you about your work at AFG?

I love being a slice of the team that helps clients reach their goals in the digital space! A client’s marketing deserves more than digital duct tape; it deserves the many tactics that we have at our fingertips. It’s my job to help identify a solution and strategy to implement a client’s vision; having fun along the way and making a positive impact!

What are your hobbies/interests outside AFG?

I enjoy anything outdoors! The beach, hiking, kayaking, 4-wheeling, camping, snowboarding…you name an outdoor activity and I probably love it! I also have a “healthy obsession” with the New England Patriots, college basketball and country music!

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