Would you pass or fail the thank-you letter experiment?

In this month’s book feature of The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, I was surprised to see author Kivi Leroux Miller devote a chapter to thanking donors, especially since those of us in the sector know how important they are. After reading the opening paragraph called, “What I got when I gave experiment,” my surprise was quickly replaced by curiosity.

In 2008, Kivi made a donation to 16 different nonprofit organizations, 12 of which she had a giving history, and what she got after giving was as she puts it, “almost nothing.” Of the 12 national charities, only four or 33 percent acknowledged the gift in any way. Of the three regional charities, only one in three acknowledged the gift. Leroux Miller reports that these results are not unusual and other similar tests have shown that less than 50 percent of donors receive thank you letters. Leroux Miller did the test again with 10 national nonprofits when going to press and you can look at her results at www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/blog for the results.

Rather than risk a 65 percent attrition rate between the first and second gift (according to Penelope Burke of Donor Centered Fundraising ), apply Leroux Miller’s six steps to improving your thank-you process.

  1. Send thank you letters out within 48 hours of the gift
  2. Use a mail merge to personalize by name, gift amount and personal designation. It’s also nice to add a handwritten note if you can and tell stories about the people you serve.
  3. Use more creative openings besides the standard “On behalf of” or “Thank you for” and instead try starting with one of your stories.
  4. Explain how the gift will be used.
  5. Tell them what to expect next. What will they receive or what invitation might they look for in the mail, etc.
  6. Personalize from the sender. Use ink instead of digital printing for signatures. Add personal notes from volunteer leaders or board members. Phone calls are also a powerful follow up as well as a thank you from the person or people who benefit from the gift directly.

Here’s what Leroux Miller had to say when we asked her about thanking donors in our Page to Practice™ interview:

CausePlanet: You dedicate a chapter to the importance of thanking donors. Why do you think nonprofits fail in this area despite the fact that they know better?

Leroux Miller: It’s short-term, to-do list-driven thinking. It’s not that nonprofits are inherently rude, but they do use being busy as an excuse. And they pay for that in the long-term, when they don’t have as many donors who give the second or third gift. Thanking donors is essential to repeat giving, but building time into your schedule to do it right with timely thank-yous requires a longer-term perspective.

Learn more about Leroux Miller’s book, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, or our Page to Practice book summary.

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