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The Five P’s of a Meaningful and Memorable Thank You

By Dawn Borgeest

What donors find important when being thanked for their gift. The five P’s of memorable and meaningful thank you notes.

We all know the importance of thanking donors for their support. But how do we make it meaningful and memorable? How do we do it in a way that reflects our gratitude and deepens our relationship with the donor?

To help answer that question, I fielded an informal survey among donors representing an array of giving levels and interests. Amazingly, there were clear and resounding themes that emerged. Here’s what they told me; make your thank you:

Personal. Don’t confuse personalized with personal. Personalizing a form letter just won’t cut it – “Form letters are a no-no for me. I open the envelope and then just toss it without really reading it,” said one donor. The desire to receive a personal note or phone call was a clear and resounding favorite among donors. And, equally important, ensuring that your note or call reflects a sincere reflection that you know them. “Simple notes that spoke directly to me – not long winded, just clear that they knew me or something going on in my life,” shared one donor. Time and again, respondents said they prefer handwritten, personal and heartfelt. Many donors also noted they appreciate a phone call – even if the caller left a message – thanking them for their gift. In a few cases, donor noted very special gifts that reflected a meaningful connection. One donor received a painting, created by a faculty member who benefitted from their gift. Another donor received a collectable edition of a dictionary to add to their personal library. Both were not outrageously costly but reflected a true connection with the donor – a true reflection that the organization knew them and their interests intimately. Oh, donors also don’t appreciate personal notes scribbled onto a form letter. Sorry, they just don’t see that as personal. And, in many cases, are annoyed with the falsehood of making it personal.

Prompt. I know, I know. Hard to believe I need to include this, but I must. Donors shared the importance of a timely acknowledgement of their gift. One donor noted, “What bombs is the total lack of any kind of acknowledgment, which as also happened to me.” Another respondent said it best: “What’s the worst thank you? The one that never came.” Yikes! Be sure to “appreciate their decision to invest in our organization by promptly thanking them for their gift.”

Purposeful. Donors like to know that their gift is helping. This theme emerged readily in donor responses about what they valued most in a thank you: “…having someone who benefited from the donation write a brief thanks (either a staff member in the organization or a beneficiary) just connects you as the donor in a more emotional way to the work and helps you to feel more palpably the good that you do. Another donor shared, “I have been thanked by being invited to a luncheon where the CEO updates the attendees with news and goals. It’s nice to learn how the donation is spent…with an opportunity for questions or discussion.” Knowing that their gift is making a difference reinforces their decision to invest in your cause.

Properly addressed. A few donors noted frustration at how their thank you notes, or letters were addressed. “When I give the gift, and the thank you note is addressed to both my husband and I.” Another donor cautioned, “…if a not-for-profit doesn’t have software that recognizes the diversity of relationships that exist, they should invest in an upgrade. The male donor went on to note that his male partner is often assumed to be a “Ms.” – “I can’t tell you how many envelopes or letters I’ve thrown out that are addressed incorrectly.” The short of it is that when you don’t properly address notes and letters, donors immediately know that you simply don’t know them or respect them. It’s also important to note that the small but powerful comment from a donor reflects poorly on institutions’ diversity and inclusion values!

Perennial. If I had my druthers, I’d rename “annual giving” to “perennial giving.” In the gardening world, a perennial is planted and tended so that it comes back year after year. An annual is planted and gives you a wonderful season of blooms but does not come back. You want perennial donors! And, consider how you can extend your thanks and appreciation throughout the year – how can you tend to the relationship in a way that will increase the likelihood they will return next year. A donor noted that, “they treat me as if I’m both important and a part of their inner circle. If a board member whom I am close to has a parent that passes, I’m notified. After attending an event, photos that might be meaningful to me are sent to my home. The more that a donor feels that they’re hearing from the organization with a personal touch, the more of an impact it has.”

Donors were aligned in preferring that the organization not spend money on “trinkets” – paperweights, mugs, and other commemorative items just are not appreciated and annoy donors. They want their gift used to help advance the cause and to ultimately, help people.

I hope you’re not disappointed to learn that the mandates of effective thank you notes to donors are quite simple and very basic. Check your processes to ensure that you’re not wasting resources – and potentially annoying donors – by how you’re acknowledging gifts. Better yet, consider making a “how do you like to be thanked for your gift” part of your processes to get to know your donor. I was amazed at how people responded when I reached out to them with this seemingly simple question. People truly do like to be heard and appreciate an opportunity to share what’s important to them. Not to mention it creates a meaningful touch point to let them know what they value is important to you.

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