Recently a reader tweeted that she was just sitting down to sign 210 personal thank-you letters for gifts ranging from $5 to $1,000.
A personal note for five dollars? Fundraising researcher Penelope Burk would heartily endorse that. (And as it turned out, it was one of her seminars that set that reader on a career-long commitment to personal notes, no matter what the gift value.)
Because it makes money
Why send personal thank-you notes for so-called “small” gifts? “Because it makes money,” Burk emphasizes. Through Cygnus Research, she’s followed donor reactions and behaviour for years. Personalized, powerful thank-you notes, she’s discovered, are always high on the list of factors that lead donors to do the three things we most want them to do: give again, give sooner and give more.
That, of course, leads to donor retention and higher lifetime donor value – the least expensive way to raise money over the long term.
Why don’t we do it well?
Why, then, are so many gift acknowledgement letters still late, poorly written, and even based on a boilerplate that hasn’t changed for months?
“Charities don’t understand how important it [a personalized thank you] is to profitability,” Burk explains. “If you see it as just a task without impact, you won’t put in enough time to do it well.” Even when the fundraiser knows better, she can be held back by the lack of good information to pass on to donors, especially in the area of undesignated gifts.
Burk also believes that the art of compelling communication isn’t taught to fundraisers. Except for appeal copy – a very specific writing assignment – being a persuasive writer isn’t named as an essential skill for fundraising positions.
Constraints on time and information, though, don’t change a core truth that Burk emphasizes: “Exceptional letters make donors take notice and remember the organization.” A vibrant, personal communication of gratitude makes the donors feel noticed and glad they’ve given. It builds trust, and that feeling lasts for a long time.
How to get it right
Since thank-you letters are so important, here is Burk’s list of the 20 things that make a thank-you letter exceptional, taken from her book, Donor-Centred Fundraising.
So with these guidelines in hand, start taking the time to do a better job on every thank-you letter that you send. “It’s worth it,” Burk encourages. “It’s worth all the time, the practice, the self-doubt. The payoff is huge.”