5 tips for donor acknowledgments

Saying "thank you" is a habit that has been ingrained in all of us since we were children - probably as soon as we started talking. So why do some nonprofits still struggle with telling their donors "thank you?"

Maybe it's lack of a plan or person dedicated to doing acknowledgments, or falling into the trap of sending the same letter to every donor, or waiting too long to actually mail the letter. If your acknowledgment program is struggling to stay afloat or could use some help, here are five tips to improve your thank-yous:

1. Acknowledge donors
By far, the number one, most important, necessary part of your acknowledgment program is acknowledging your donors. Did I mention how crucial this is? The current national retention rate is barely 50%, and donors are giving to fewer nonprofits. You cannot afford to slack on your retention strategies, including thanking every donor. If you don't bother to acknowledge a donor's gift, why would they continue to give? You may be thinking, "This isn't a tip - it's a no-brainer.", but you'd be amazed at how many donors report in surveys that they were never thanked for a gift and therefore, stopped giving (not surprising).

2. Create a plan of attack
Just because a donor never received a thank-you, doesn't mean that the organization lacks an acknowledgment program. Sometimes, it's the execution that's lacking. Creating a "plan of attack" for sending thank-yous can keep gifts from falling through the cracks and going unacknowledged.

Decide who will be responsible for sending thank-yous, how often they will be sent, which donors will receive what letter and how all of this will be tracked. Taking the time to nail down a plan will ease the panicky feeling that can come from not knowing when the last time thank-yous were sent and not knowing whom to ask. Make a plan and stick to it.

3. Have a sense of urgency
The sooner an acknowledgment goes out, the better. Waiting too long to send a thank-you can make the donor feel unappreciated or forgotten. And, if you wait way too long, they may even forget giving you a gift. Within two weeks of the donation is an ideal turnaround time - within a few days is even better.

Quick turnaround time also eases the burden during peak donation times and for organizations with a high volume of gifts year-round. Set aside time every other week, once a week or several times a week and get acknowledgments done and in the mail. Staying on top of acknowledgments will keep you from becoming buried underneath an endless list of thank-you to-dos.

4. Show genuine appreciation
A great way to speed up your turnaround time is to send the exact same letter to everyone. But, do you think you donors are going to feel genuinely appreciated when they receive the same exact letter every time they make a gift? Having one generic thank-you template that you send to everyone with zero personalization may be easier on your schedule, but it does nothing for your retention or donor relationships.

Start by doing away with any type of universal salutation ("Dear Supporter") and address your supporter by name. Weave-in personalization throughout the letter. Are they a long-time donor? Recognize it. Did they give to a special fund or appeal? Mention it. Take the opportunity to tell your donor how their gift will be used. These little things add sincerity to your thank-you letter and make the donor feel special.

5. Add an ask
Yes, you read that right. Go ahead - slip a reply envelope and remit in with your thank-you. What most people consider a 'don't' is actually a 'do', and best of all, it works. Why does it work? First, it's a soft ask. In the body of the letter, you're not explicitly asking for another gift, but you are providing a way for them to make a gift if they feel compelled. And, they're going to feel compelled. Why? Because you followed the first four tips! Your donor received a personalized, genuine thank-you right after making a gift, so they're feeling special and valuable. Now, they're going to give you another gift because you showed and told them how important they are to your organization and the community.

Just remember, your acknowledgments shouldn't be seen as a burden or a task to check-off your list. Use your thank-you letters as an opportunity to show your genuine, heartfelt appreciation as well as keep your donors connected with your organization and build a long-lasting relationship.

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