Updated: May 30
Thanksgiving is next week, which means it’s time to get ready for all of our favorite traditions: fasting for a few days so we can get ready to eat as much turkey and pie as possible, fighting the urge to talk about politics at the dinner table, and watching a rare Thursday afternoon football game.
Actually, never mind the football part. Here in St. Louis, we’re not on good terms with the NFL, and I’d rather watch just about anything else.
While we prepare for all of our personal Thanksgiving traditions, it’s also a good time to think about how we give thanks as fundraisers.
Saying “thank you” is something that should come naturally to us every day of the year; as stewards of some vitally important causes, we should always be thanking those who make the work possible, including donors, volunteers, staff, and others. The challenge is that saying “thank you” can become so routine that it loses its meaning and its impact.
Thanking our stakeholders isn’t an empty gesture, nor is it purely altruistic; rather, it’s the foundation of donor relationships and the key to building long-term support. A well-executed stewardship process will increase retention rates and help donors feel like they are more than just a source of revenue.
What can you do to make a thank you more meaningful and impactful? We prepared some tips to help you during the season of gratitude:
Say thank you no matter the size of the gift: Whether you’re receiving a 7-figure gift or a contribution under $100, it’s important that you recognize that every gift is a sacrifice and a vote of confidence in your work. The thank you will look different at every giving level, but it’s essential that you be prepared to thank every donor, no matter what. You never know which small gift will grow into a large one over time, and the first thank you is a key piece of that process.
Pick up the phone: Yes, the thank you letters and emails are great, but a personal touch can mean so much more. During important times of giving like the end of the year, it’s great to set aside time every day to call donors and say thanks. Decide on a number of donors to call and pick them at random. Don’t just focus on your high level donors; you never know which small donor has capacity and may be interested in getting more involved. Spread the love and talk to people at every level on your donor list.
Listen: Thank you calls shouldn’t be one-sided conversations. They’re a chance for you to express genuine gratitude, but they’re also an opportunity for you to check the pulse of your donor community. If there are recurring things that come up during your conversations, take them to heart and make necessary changes.
Don’t forget your monthly donors: Monthly giving can have a transformational impact, but it isn’t without its risks. One of those risks is a tendency to neglect recurring donors. Because they give automatically, it’s easy to only reach out when there’s a payment issue or you hope to upgrade their gift. Make sure you set aside time to express your genuine gratitude for their support throughout the year.
Saying thank you is a team sport: Fundraisers should always be leading the way when thanking donors, but they also shouldn’t be doing it alone. Senior leadership, board members, volunteers, and staff all have a role to play as well. After a big fundraising campaign or special event, pull in a larger group to be involved in making thank you calls. Give them the training and support they need, then empower them to say thank you on behalf of the organization.
Have a plan: Have a strategy for when to thank donors, how to thank them, and how to involve your larger team. Saying thank you should be organic and meaningful, but it should also be a structured activity. The last thing you want is for a donor to feel unappreciated because you did not execute a strong thank you strategy.
Above all, don’t forget the impact a strong thank you message can have. It’s an important touchpoint for you as a fundraiser, a meaningful moment for a donor, and a critical step for your organization.
Struggling with your stewardship strategy? Our team of nonprofit fundraising consultants has no shortage of gratitude and is here to help you!
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-Team Kat & Mouse
Sharon, Amy and Ben