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The fundraiser's two most important words

Sarah Scarth explains why saying ‘thank you’ isn’t only the right thing to do, it’s one of the most important things you have to do.

There are two words in fundraising more important than any others: Thank You. Saying thank you for a gift received is not just the polite thing to do, it’s an important step in ‘binding’ your relationship with a donor or supporter.

There is plenty of evidence, both anecdotal and formal, to confirm that when said quickly, with sincerity and in as personal a way as possible, saying thank you is a significant factor in building long-term relationships with donors.

Why? Because saying ‘thank you’ makes the donor feel good about themselves – even better than when they made the gift and often leads to repeat donations.

In his book Retention Fundraising, fundraising guru Roger Craver identifies the key drivers of donor commitment (based on research carried out among donors of 250-plus organisations). Of the 32 drivers, the top seven are all linked to thanking with the number one driver being: "Timeliness of the organisation thanking me for my support".

He also shares the reasons why donors leave or stop donating, referencing research conducted by Bloomerang, which found that 13% of those surveyed said they left because they never got thanked. As Roger quite rightly remarks: “No act of omission more clearly signals, ‘We don’t care. Just send the money.’” 

So how do we do a better job at thanking donors so that we can spend less time finding new ones? Let’s hold onto those who have already shown us their support. Here are some suggestions:

Make it a priority with dedicated resources

If you’ve got more than a couple of donors, setting up proper systems and procedures to ensure donors are thanked appropriately is critical. Someone needs to take responsibility for ensuring the right thank you message is sent quickly, ideally using the channel you originally used to communicate with the donor. Recording the thank you on your customer relationship management database is also critical – tracking donor engagement and response helps you better plan donor communication.

Don’t be shy to pick up the phone

I’m often surprised how hesitant organisations are to use the telephone to speak to their donors. The Children’s Hospital Trust has a policy to call and thank every new donor, regardless of the value of their donation and it’s helping them keep their donors giving. I can’t think of anything nicer than brightening up someone’s day by telling them how much they are appreciated. And it shouldn’t just fall to one person to make these lovely calls. Think how amazing a donor, who has made a small donation, would feel to receive a thank you call from the CEO. So get the whole team involved in making more donors happy!

Get creative

If your thank you letter starts with something like: "On behalf of the board and management of the..." it’s time to start rewriting! Remember one size won’t fit all and it’s really important to keep updating your letters. Also, don’t focus on what you’ve done, but rather on what the donor has made possible – he or she is the hero.  Here’s an example: “Thank you for walking alongside our Inspectors in spirit as they strive to right the wrongs suffered by so many animals that have been lost, hurt, neglected or abused. Your donation of (amount) has been safely processed and will be a huge help in keeping our Inspectors out in the field.”

Be a bit old fashioned

There’s nothing more personal than a hand-written letter and for many it’s a bit of a novelty. A well-composed, handwritten letter can be hugely powerful but if you can’t write the whole letter by hand then just add a handwritten note to personalise it a little more. Taking time shows you care.

Who’s doing the thanking?

It’s always recommended that the thank you letter is signed by the head of the organisation, especially if that person signed the appeal letter. Also try to get your leadership team and board involved in thanking.

Learn from others

Thanks to websites like Sofii ( there are lots of great examples on the Internet of how to do a better job of thanking. Plagiarism is not encouraged but replicating good practice is. Thanking doesn’t need to be confined to the written message. Check out a video from Charity Water who dedicated a day to thanking their donors and then filmed it and shared it online:

Sarah Scarth is a consultant at Downes Murray International, and is the Resource Alliance’s Southern Africa area representative.

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