Why Thanking Your Donors is So Important

By: Ilan Mann

February 13, 2020

I am always shocked to hear non-profit professionals tell me that they don’t thank their donors. The logic goes that people open their hearts and wallets to charities and non-profits because they want to help a good cause, and doing so is enough reward in and of itself.

While it’s true that selflessness and a drive to better the world is the primary motivator of many gifts, fundraising professionals who take that approach will notice their donor base dwindling, and the size of donations decreasing year over year.

The simple truth is that donor dollars are as valuable to them as they are to you, and while fundraisers may mistakenly think that donors will continue to donate as their default action, the opposite is actually true – especially in bad times.

Thanking donors is one of the easiest methods of donor retention, for a few very simple reasons:

First of all, human nature drives a lot of charitable and philanthropic activity. Donors may have selfless intentions when they make their original donations, but like any other human beings, they crave the feeling of social belonging, which is triggered by recognition.

You would be amazed how many fundraisers immediately recognize the value of putting together elaborate gala dinners to honor donors, or putting their names on billboards and buildings as an incentive to inspire their donations, but fail to recognize the same behaviors at play with a simple, $2 handwritten thank-you card.

Another benefit of thanking donors is staying top of mind. Any number of events or thoughts may have triggered their first donation to your organization – maybe they saw an effective piece of marketing material, heard about you from a friend, or were personally touched by the cause that you raise money for in the time leading up to their first donation.

What will trigger their second donation? Their third? Their ninth consecutive donation? A thank-you note makes its recipient feel good, and the more well-conceived and executed the thank-you, the more that feeling lasts. A lasting feeling of goodwill is a great way to stay top of mind next Christmas, tax season, or whenever your donors decide if and where to direct their charitable dollars.

Fundraisers should also be aware that donors tend to link an organization’s ability to keep in touch with that organization’s need for donations.

Donors may say to themselves, “if they’re not keeping in touch with me, acknowledging me, or thanking me, it’s probably because they have so many other donors to keep in touch with, to acknowledge, and to thank.” and then they may ask themselves, “if they have so many other donors, do they really need me?”

If you don’t thank your donors – if you treat them as unimportant – they will assume that they are not needed. They will direct their dollars to an organization that needs them more, not out of a selfish need to be recognized, but out of a selfless desire to have an impact where they are needed.

Finally, thank you notes are a great way to remind your donors that there are real people, and not a faceless organization, at the other end of their donation.

Donors who are never thanked have no way of knowing that their donation was received and put to good use. They throw their dollars into the abyss, and are lucky if they receive a black and white, barcoded tax receipt in a windowed envelope a year later – or worse: they hear nothing from you until you ask them for money again and again.

Thanking donors is one of the most important functions of a fundraiser – consider it a choice between saying “thank you” to your donors, or saying “goodbye” to them. It should be one of the easiest things to justify to the rest of the organization, but in case it isn’t, gently remind them of these key takeaways:

  • Saying thank you lets donors know that they are donating to real people, and not faceless organizations – a key ingredient in letting them feel that their money is put to good use.
  • Saying thank you lets your donors know that each of them is important to you, which makes them feel that your organization needs them, and doesn’t take them for granted.
  • Saying thank you in a powerful and personal way – like a handwritten note of gratitude – helps trigger long-lasting feelings of joy and goodwill, which keeps your organization top of your donor’s mind
  • Saying thank you appeals to human nature – people crave feelings of social belonging, and recognition and expressions of gratitude help them achieve those feelings

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