In my recent webinar with 4GOOD/Nonprofit Webinars about How Creative Thank Yous and an Attitude of Gratitude Can Supercharge Your Fundraising, it became apparent there’s one question many of you struggle with:
Gosh dang it! How on earth do you develop a system that assures thank you’s really get out in 48 hours?
HERE’S THE BIGGEST SECRET:
1. You’ve got to get everyone in your organization to buy in to the 48-hour rule. Donor etiquette is not like wedding etiquette. You don’t have a year to send the thank you note. You have 48 hours. No kidding. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do to sustain donor relationships. But if anyone doesn’t take this seriously, it won’t happen. And if you can’t make this happen, you’re going to leave money on the table. You’re going to lose donors. Period.
So… how do you get everyone on board?
2. Begin with the research*. There’s a reason it’s an industry best practice. Show the research to your ‘Doubting Thomas’s’ so they can no longer argue with you. Donors do care about this. People want to know you actually got the gift. And if you’re really slow, it makes you appear inefficient. They’ll wonder — is this how you run the rest of your business?
For more proof to those who may get in the way, share this true story:
I remember a time when a donor asked that contributions in honor of his marriage be made to the organization for which I worked. He and his bride also named two other charities. Guess what? My organization sent a continual stream of prompt, personal acknowledgements. The other charities took weeks to send notifications. The donor let me know personally how much our acknowledgements meant, and we began a relationship. Ultimately, he joined the board, chaired the development committee and became a major supporter. All because of the thank you process!
3. Develop written Acknowledgment Policies and Procedures to assure you have the cross-departmental systems (often facilities, finance and development) in place to get the job done in a timely manner (here are two examples of policies from Association of Advancement Services Professionals and AFP: Developing Fundraising Policies and Procedures).
TIP: Think about the journey a donor’s gift takes from the minute it leaves their hands to getting deposited to your account. How quickly do you welcome the gift from its travels? Is everyone who should be involved in expediting the journey aware of their role to avoid delays, and do they own it? Do you have a “The show must go on” or a “Que Será Será” culture? Once I simply assigned staff to pick up and deliver mail on a daily basis. It speeded up thank you letters by two whole days. Where are your hold-ups?
- Do you wait for the mail to arrive ‘whenever’, or do you assign someone to pick it up at the post office every morning? “The mail was late today” is not a good excuse.
- Where does the mail go first? Does someone in the mail room open it and remove all the checks (so they don’t end up sitting on the desk of a staffer who may be out of the office that day… or week)? “I was out with the flu for a week so didn’t know you’d given until just now” is not a good excuse.
- Where do checks go first? Do they go to the finance or development department? If finance, do they make it a rule to account for/deposit all gifts on a daily basis; then provide development with same day copies? If someone is absent in the finance department, do they have a back-up staffer to handle the gifts? “We were understaffed last week” is not a good excuse.
- Where do credit card payments go first? When a donor enters a card number on a remit piece, does it get processed that day? Or is your finance department holding all credit cards to process in weekly batches; then not informing development until the processing has occurred? “Since you gave by credit card you may not have received your thank you yet” is not a good excuse.
- Once the gift arrives in the development department, what steps are taken to assure the thank you gets to the donor promptly and personally? Is gift acknowledgment the sole job of a staffer so that they make it a priority? If assigned to someone with other responsibilities, do you have a policy of “acknowledge gifts first”? Once a computer-generated letter is produced, what happens next? Does the person who proofs the letters reserve specific hours every day for this assignment? If the letters then go to the executive director for personalization, does s/he reserve the time? If volunteers add personal notes, does this happen on a daily basis? “The E.D. was on vacation for three weeks, so that’s why you’ve probably not received your thank you” is not a good excuse.
- Once the thank you is signed what happens next? Does it get inserted into an envelope that’s been pre-stuffed with any inserts you regularly send to your donors? Or do you hold the letter until inserts can be added later on? “We ran out of our inserts and had to print some” is not a good excuse.
- Once the thank you is sealed what happens next? Do you wait for the mail to be picked up the next morning, or do you assign someone to take it to the post office (or a mail box where it will be picked up that night) every day? “The dog ate the person who usually goes to the mailbox” is not a good excuse.
You can see that not having clarity on the answers to these questions can easily tack on several days to a week to your thank you letter’s journey.
Don’t let your higher level donor letters take longer to get mailed because they sit on the director’s desk for a week waiting for a personal note. Figure out a system to avoid this and make it part of your policies and procedures.
- Don’t let your online donors suffer just because they chose to give via your website. Make sure they get a prompt thank you that you’ve customized, and not just a canned emailed receipt. These folks should also receive a mailed thank you letter, with all your inserts and personal notes, but you can take a little longer with this since they already know you’ve received and appreciated the gift.
- Direct mail studies say within 48 hours, but I know sometimes that’s hard. I empathize. If you get the letter out within a week, that’s okay. Skies will not fall. But… honestly, strive for 48 hours. Sometimes that will turn into a week for one reason or another. If you allow yourself a week, it will stretch into two. That’s too long.
- If you absolutely have so many online donors that you can’t afford to send mailed thank you letters to all of them, then at least make sure you send them to the subsets of your supporters you’ve identified as most likely to be sustaining donors. This includes major donors and recurring donors.
* RESEARCH: In Donor-Centered Fundraising by Penelope Burk she says there are 3 simple steps to raising more money. She suggests that a simple acknowledgement can satisfy the first two needs immediately. The third can be addressed over time through a combination of communications with the donors. “A donor needs to know
- that the gift was received…and you were pleased to get it.
- that the gift was ‘set to work’ as intended.
- that the project or program to which the gift was directed had the desired effect.”
Remember that your prompt, personal thank you builds a bridge to future support and deeper engagement. Do it well, and you are on your way to future fundraising success. How have you overcome obstacles to getting your thank you out in 48 hours?
If you want to develop a strategic donor acknowledgment program, check out How to Cultivate An Attitude of Gratitude and Keep Your Donors. And I have a brand new guide, 48 Hours: Your Donor Acknowledgement Solution Kit. I give you my 100% guarantee you’ll find these resources helpful. If not, just let me know. I’m usually pretty nice.