Why Thank You Notes To Donors Matter More Than You Thought

Donor Retention Project ImageThe Donor Retention Project – Week 6:
Thank You Notes To Donors

As I listened to the beginning of week 6 in The Donor Retention Project I quickly learned tips and tricks for improving my nonprofit thank you note writing skills.  But, I’ll admit that my initial reaction was surprise.  Really?  A whole week is dedicated to thank you notes?  I know they are one of many ways to appreciate your donor but they are one of many ways?  Are they going to dedicate week 7 to signage in the lobby?

Maybe they will, and maybe they won’t but if they do, I now know one thing.  A week should be dedicated to thank you notes.  It is an easy and proven donor retention strategy.

As Lisa Sargent, this week’s guest (and thank you note expert) stated, if it retains one percent of your donors – why wouldn’t you do it? Of course, you could list the standard excuses.  “I am so busy but I’ll get around to it.” “I am waiting for Allison, Mark, and Karen to approve the content.” “I need to print out all those letters so I’ll do it tomorrow.” “I am waiting for the addresses from Margaret.” What do all of those excuses have in common?  There is no streamlined process that ensures the letters go out in a timely fashion.  And if the letters don’t go out, your donor retention will go down.

Consider this valuable piece of advice from the interview.  If you cannot get the thank you notes out in 48 hours – the standard best practices theory – don’t try.  But, make sure you get them out once a week every week.  Or at least once every two weeks, but then make sure it is every two weeks. The bottom line is that you are better off extending the time frame and ensuring your acknowledgements go out on a regular basis than trying to fit them in every 48 hours and sometimes doing it and sometimes not getting around to it. But keep it at two weeks.  If you wait too long to send the letter it will seem insincere.. Other useful tips that can improve your consistency are:

  1. Send the thank you note copy around for approval with the direct mail solicitation.
  2. Try to have as few people approve the letter as possible.  Everyone in your organization can write, but that doesn’t mean they all need to have a say in each letter.  Each additional critical eye will add more corporate language and less chance that any warmth will come through.
  3. If you are sending out the notes once a week, set up a time once a week with the person who’s signature is on the letter.  It will improve your accountability to have a meeting set up and it will allow any personal notes to be added in a timely manner.  It would be disappointing to work hard to get the notes written and then left sitting on someone else’s desk for days on end.

There are many more ways to improve your thank you note both in the conversation – the donor retention project and on Lisa Sargent’s site, http://www.lisasargent.com/index.htm. Keep one last piece of advice in mind, if you don’t have the capacity to retain donors, perhaps you should stop spending so much time trying to acquire new donors.

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Read the rest of my series on 90 Days to Larger Gifts and Lifetime Donors by clicking here