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Engaging Donors Through Gratitude

Michelle Johnston Michelle Johnston Senior Manager of Strategic Development

Last year after getting married, I sat down to write “thank you” notes to our guests who had celebrated my husband and me with a gift. After five notes, I felt like I had the formula down. After 15, my eyes were starting to cross. After 20, I had to stop because they were all starting to sound the same. I wanted everyone to know how much I truly appreciated them spending their time and energy to celebrate our wedding with us. The day would not have been complete without their presence. Despite my intentions to share a genuine, personalized “thank you” with each of our guests, after a while, they stopped ringing true and instead started to sound formulaic – I actually threw away a stack and started over at a later date when I had a fresh perspective. A “thank you” should be a heartfelt expression of gratitude, but all too easily it can instead become an acknowledgement of a transaction. It is a small yet important distinction.

Your donors, like my wedding guests, need to know that they made a difference…their contribution is not just a monetary gift.

At this year’s Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising Conference, I was thrilled to attend a session called “Please & Thank You: How to Engage Donors Through Gratitude” presented by contacts from CDR Fundraising Group and Christian Appalachian Project. Here are a few great tactical ideas from the session:

  • Personalization is your best friend. All of those data points you collect regarding your donors should be used when you send them a “thank you.” Mention a preference of theirs, talk about previous work they did for your organization, acknowledge how long they have been a donor and talk to them about how they personally connect with the mission of your organization. If you don’t already know these things, you should be looking to capture that information.
  • Engage them for additional touch points. Send a bounceback card in the acknowledgement, send a short survey that asks for their opinion or give them a call. What if every week, you chose a cross section of recent donors and thanked them by phone? Not to ask for an additional gift and not to replace the mailed acknowledgment, but just to make them feel special.
  • Gratitude does not end with the “Thank You” – it is just the beginning. Every time you engage with a donor you are building a relationship. Make sure your messaging treats them like an essential part of your organization. Tell them how their money is being used, how they can further help your organization and most of all, express appreciation and acknowledge what they mean to the organization each time you send them a mailing.

Key takeaway: It’s not about the “thank you” – it’s about making the donor FEEL appreciated.

This list might seem daunting. Maybe you are thinking: “we can’t, we don’t have the money, the resources or the time!” Those are all valid responses, but take heart! The session suggested using the 15% solution: What small thing can you do with little additional money, time, people and authority?

Giving thanks is a humble gesture that delivers a mighty impact. From wedding “thank you” cards to full on acknowledgement programs, even simple notes to friends or colleagues, start looking for new opportunities that allow you to personally and authentically express your appreciation for others. People remember how you make them feel and showing your gratitude is a wonderful way to make them feel emotions of care, appreciation and joy!