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Thanks, But No Thanks

October 2008
By: Ron Haas
A major donor looked the new executive director in the eyes, pointed his finger, and scolded, "Don't ever forget to thank your donors." Wow, that should get your attention. The donor had given a sizeable gift, and unfortunately the former director had neglected to say, "Thanks."

Forget your keys, forget your mother's birthday, even forget your anniversary, but don't forget to thank your donors. Ten lepers were healed, but only one returned to thank Jesus for His wonderful gift. Evidently, the other nine were too busy enjoying their new lives to show their appreciation. Not much has changed. Genuine thankfulness still seems rare. When it comes to your relationships with donors, you can't thank them too much.

Thankfulness can take many forms: a handwritten note, a personal phone call, or maybe a small gift of appreciation. Perhaps you've heard this fundraising proverb, "Thank the donor seven times before asking for another gift." That's a good rule of thumb, but how do you do it? Here are 10 thank you tips. Remember to thank your donors!

Instantly. 'Thank yous' have an expiration date—words can grow stale and seem like merely an afterthought. It's easy to let a stack of thank you letters sit on a desk waiting to be processed. The longer you wait, the more a donor begins to question if you actually received their gift. Turn around receipts and letters within 48 hours of the donation. Your motto should be, "The donor must be thanked before the check clears the bank!"

Personally. Your thank you letter should be addressed with a personal salutation. 'Dear Friend' doesn't cut it. Some gifts warrant a special handwritten note card. At the very least, your letter needs to be signed from someone near the top of your organization. Many directors add a brief greeting when they sign donor letters. If you have a high volume of donations, it may not be possible for the executive director to write notes to everyone, but give special attention to your top tier donors.

Gratefully. The absolute worst time to thank a donor is in the same sentence you ask for another gift. A familiar complaint from donors is, "We only hear from them when they are asking for money." Your 'thank you' is not the time to build a case for your next big project. Keep your focus on expressing your appreciation for their current gift.

Simply. You might be tempted to throw extra things in the envelope because you're already paying the postage. Thank you letters are for thanking. Don't ask your donors to do anything else like take a survey, sign up for something, or volunteer for an event. Resist the urge to send your new brochure. If you want to highlight your brochure, send it in a separate mailing.

Completely. Share how their gift will help you reach people. Include a testimony of a life your organization has touched to remind your donors of the eternal impact of their gift. If you are raising money for a special project, let them know about your progress and when they will hear more information.

Briefly. A thank you note doesn't have to be a long-winded update of all the exciting things your organization is doing. When you add too much information, your 'thank you' gets lost in all the words and loses its effectiveness. Less is more. It really doesn't have to be more than two or three paragraphs.

Creatively. Communicate to your donor in his or her 'love language.' Not everyone wants a book. Find out something special about your donor and give them a small thank you gift unique to them. If they love golf, woodworking, birds, or sewing, give them something that will surprise them and remind them that you cared enough to personalize your thank you.

Wisely. Be careful about giving gifts of appreciation that seem expensive. Donors who are stewardship-minded will question why you spent money on them instead of your mission. One way to avoid this concern is to have a board member or key donor purchase the gifts. You can then tell your donors, "One of our friends is very grateful for your involvement and wanted us to thank you with this gift."

Constantly. Appreciation gifts continue to say thank you long after the donation was given. One children's ministry designed a small Christmas ornament that would remind donors every year of their partnership. Framed professional photos of your clients tell a compelling story. Consider a memento that someone could display on his or her desk or in a curio cabinet.

Corporately. Everyone on your team should be thankful for your ministry partners. Get your board involved by having them hand deliver receipts in a sealed envelope to key donors. Each November, assign your board members ten donor phone calls. Equip them with a brief script that shares a couple of key thoughts about your organization and a genuine 'thank you.' Donors will be pleased that you called, not to ask, but to thank!

Your donors likely give to several organizations. If you take the time to personally and genuinely thank them, you will build strong donor relationships and differentiate your organization from the many others vying for the same charitable dollars.

Ron Haas is Vice President of The Timothy Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He can be reached at

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