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Resources – Articles

WHY You Must Send Thank-You Letters – The Missing Link in Fundraising Appeals
by Karen Zapp

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I firmly believe thank-you letters ought to be promptly sent to donors. It’s a matter of less-than-common courtesy. I say less-than-common because “common courtesy” just isn’t all that common anymore, unfortunately.

The good news is by doing this you’ll stand out from the crowd. Plus you’ll garner more of your donor’s attention. In my article Fundraising Courtesy I outline the elements of a solid thank-you letter along with other tips for a strong letter.

Now back to WHY you should send thank-you letters. In addition to being the polite thing to do, donors expect it. And when you don’t do what they expect – especially something they think you should do – you’re creating problems for yourself and your long term fundraising results.

Countless studies, focus groups, surveys, etc. consistently reveal essentially all donors want their gift acknowledged. And if you don’t send a special letter just to say thanks, you’ll change the perception donors have of you in a less than favorable way.

  • You’ll be perceived as ungrateful: “They certainly cashed my check fast enough. But I guess it didn’t mean enough to send a simple thank-you note.”
  • You’ll be perceived as self-centered: “All they care about is getting my money. They could care less about me.”
  • You’ll be perceived as disorganized and inefficient: “I sent them money 2 months ago and just now received a thank you! Meanwhile I received another letter asking for money pretty darn quick . . . in fact it was within a couple weeks of sending in my check. I don’t know. If they’re that disorganized I wonder how well they’re spending my money. Should I give again?
  • You’ll be responded to less warmly in the future: “When I receive a thank-you I know my check arrived safely; I know they care about me; and well, I like getting a thank-you note. These folks didn’t do that and it’s so simple to do. That’s the last check they’ll get from me!

So HOW do you write a strong thank you letter?
After reading just the first part of this article you know WHY these letters are vitally important to your nonprofit's overall success. If you're ready for some in-depth "how-to" guidance on writing a stronger acknowledgement letter - including examples of copy to use - then  Click Here for the ZAPP GUIDE to Thank You Letters.

If you’re still not convinced how important this is to your overall fundraising strategy, testing has proven time and again that ...
  1. You get better response in follow-on appeals if you send a thank-you for each gift received.
  2. Thank-you letters strengthen donor loyalty.
  3. And related to number 2, they’re critical to donor cultivation because they build long-term relationships.

I expect you’ve heard it before: It costs far less to retain a donor than to acquire a brand new one. Saying thank-you is not only polite, but it nurtures the precious relationship you have with your donors. And as number 1 suggests, it’s another critical step in getting a subsequent gift.

Another reason worth mentioning is the thank-you letter serves as a receipt for your donor’s gift. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) adjusts its requirements from time to time so check with your advisors, but as of this writing: All 501(c)(3) organizations must send written letters for all gifts of $75 or more and when offering a substantial premium or incentive for giving.

And donors who give $250 or more must obtain a written document from the charity to qualify for a tax deduction. So when you send a thank-you note and state the amount, you’re helping your donor because they don’t have to request it. You’ve not only thanked them, you’ve done them a favor.

Whether asking savvy nonprofits or seasoned consultants, they all agree that speed is essential. In a perfect world the thank-you letter goes out within a day of receiving the gift. At “worst” send it within a week.

If you only send out thank-you letters every couple weeks or monthly you run afoul of donor goodwill. A costly mistake. The relationship deteriorates, revenue isn’t as high as it could be, and your cash flow is delayed.

Sending these letters certainly costs money. But not sending them will cost you more money. Nonetheless, if you’re in a severe budget dilemma, examine your file. What’s your average gift size? One source says if it’s around ten bucks then thank everyone. If it’s $15 or higher it may not be cost-effective to recognize the $5 and $8 donors. Analyze this very, very carefully.

Thank you letters are your most important donor cultivation tool . . . and they'll also help make your fundraising more efficient — more cost effective.
I spelled out "WHY" thank you letters are an essential tool for your nonprofit in this article. And in the  ZAPP GUIDE to Thank You Letters  I spell out "HOW" to write acknowledgement letters in detail — including an actual sample letter and other copy you can use.

There’s considerable debate over whether to include a “soft” ask in your thank-you letter. Some experts say ‘yes’ and others say ‘no.’ I prefer that you don't include any kind of an "ask" but the best answer is to test it.

So if you don’t have a finely honed system in place for donor acknowledgement, I strongly recommend you make it a priority to get one immediately. Skip it and you’re missing a link – a vital link – in the fundraising chain.

History dictates you’ll receive more revenue as a direct result of these letters.

If you would like more specifics on what to include in your thank-you letter, please read my article Fundraising Courtesy.

Finally, I'd be happy to write a thank you letter for you. Or perhaps you prefer to have me critique a letter you've already written. Just drop me a line and we'll take it from there.


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