Donor development can be an overwhelming process. The job of cultivating donors, engaging target audiences, building personal relationships and determining the proper timing of "the ask" are all crucial to achieving fundraising success. With each multi-layered step, it’s easy to lose sight of the single-most important part of donor retention: expressing your gratitude.
Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful or the "readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness". This is an important concept that takes a central role in fundraising, but can sometimes get glossed over when the focus falls too heavily on numbers and figures.
Being a grateful recipient shows your charity cares - not only about the mission at hand, but about the people who make it possible. Donors are people, not numbers. They want to feel appreciated for their contribution and reassured that their money matters. Whether they give $5 or $50,000, every gift is a reason to extend gratitude.
Following are five ways gratitude can help you develop and strengthen your donor relationships:
1. Make gratitude the priority
Whether or not someone is going to donate again shouldn't be the primary focus when expressing gratitude. While creating repeat donors is clearly an important part of developing your donors, don't give thanks just to get another gift; give thanks because it's the right thing to do. Donors deserve to enjoy their giving, and by showing your gratitude you let them feel good about their generosity. This is an important part of the philanthropic process and an absolute necessity in donor development.
2. Make a good first impression
Every donation is an opportunity to show thanks and provide donors a legendary giving experience. If they are elated after that initial contribution, they are more likely to ask what else the organization might need. You may even find that you have a volunteer or ambassador on your hands!
Many donors use their very first experience as a test, and this first taste can strongly influence their future donation potential. If you take the donations and run, donors will feel used for their pocketbook. Alternatively, if you accept the gift, show genuine gratitude and then continue ongoing communication about how that money had an impact, you are planting the seed for a lasting relationship.
3. Be timely with your gratitude
Within 24 to 48 hours of receiving a gift, send a thank-you note or email. Then make sure the money is going to the right place. If the donor designated the gift for the annual fund, for example, make sure it gets there. Then, make a phone call to the donor to say thanks, gather feedback and provide information on how the gift will be used. Donors want to feel appreciated and confident that their donation will make a difference.
Consider some of the following examples of ways to express your appreciation over the phone:
"I'm calling to say thank you for your recent donation to the annual fund. It means so much that you view the work we're doing as valuable and worthy of your investment. Thank you for your generosity!"
"I'm calling to thank you for your recent commitment to making recurring monthly donations. These donations will help make our vision for this charity a reality. Can I tell you more about what that vision is and get your feedback?"
"I'm calling to say thank you for your recent donation to help us make our year-end fundraising goals. We could have never reached this momentous milestone without you and your generosity. Thank you so much for supporting us!"
4. Vary your communication style
While prompt and timely donor communication is important, gratitude never has a deadline. Quarterly communication should be a part of every fund development plan. Know the communication style donors prefer and use it often, but don’t be afraid to try something new every once in a while. Donors who prefer email, for example, should receive most of their communication that way, but a handwritten note once or twice a year can shake it up and help your organization really stand out.
5. Have fun with it!
Conveying gratitude shouldn't be a dreaded chore. In most cases, it's going be an enjoyable experience for both you and the donor. You may be surprised by some of the conversations you get into or connections you make just by calling to say thank you.
Make it fun! Brainstorm meaningful actions among your team so you can go beyond thank-you notes and phone calls. What things might uniquely convey thanks from the organization? A tour of a historic building, Q&A with a local up-and-coming chef, a favorite wine shipped from overseas – don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Ask colleagues, faculty, board members – no idea is too odd or outrageous. You might discover a fresh way to say thank you and make a big impression.
Donor development starts with a thank you. What happens after that is up to you. Trust that people do talk – especially big-time philanthropists – and your reputation will always precede you. Be the organization that is always thankful and treats donors with the utmost respect by showing genuine gratitude in every one of your interactions.
Jeff has over 17 years of experience in the Nonprofit and fundraising industry. He was the Director of Development at Cal State Fullerton before co-founding a company specializing in producing charity auctions where he produced 250 of Southern California’s most successful Nonprofit fundraising events.
Jeff founded Winspire in 2008 with the goal of helping Nonprofits increase their event revenue and identify new fundraising sources. Jeff and his team at Winspire have helped over 12,000 Nonprofits to date. You can also find Jeff on Google+.