What’s More Important: Donors or Their Gifts?

Does your institution care more about its donors or their gifts?

Before you answer, let me ask the same question in a more practical, perhaps more helpful way.

After you receive the gift, how long does it take, on average, for your institution to thank and extend a gift receipt to a donor?

In the past, I have suggested that the timing of an institution extending gratitude and a donor’s gift check clearing the bank should coincide very closely.  A day or two difference is “ok,” but not much more than that.

Ten, even five years ago, this wasn’t such a difficult standard to meet.  Paper checks were cleared by one bank sending the check to another via U.S. mail.  So, the institution had time to process an acknowledgement and get a gift receipt to the donor.  However, technology is making this standard more difficult to achieve.

What does this mean?  Well, my wife and I recently made a gift to an institution and, within 3 days after sending in our check (we didn’t make the gift online because we wanted to include a handwritten note), it cleared our bank.  We knew this because we bank online – a few clicks and we saw it had cleared.  Today paper checks are cleared electronically, greatly reducing the time to post the debit to a donor’s bank account.

We waited three weeks for a thank you letter and gift receipt.

Fairly or not, we came away from that experience with a perception about what that particular institution cared most about.

And this isn’t a small issue.  According to a 2010 study by Fiserv, “[N]early 100 million U.S. families use the internet, and a surprisingly high 72.5 million of those households contain someone who uses online banking.”

Technology can bring with it unintended consequences.  Our gift acknowledgement processes need to keep pace with the changing environment and expectations.

Using email or other electronic means as a way to extend thanks to your donors immediately can be a solution.  Perhaps for your institution, an email thanks is followed by a more traditional letter and gift receipt.

Whatever the solution for your institution, thanking donors should never be perceived as an afterthought.

1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Over the years I have learned how important it is to process thank you messages and receipts very quickly. Today, in our organization, The Foundation for Evangelism, thank you letters with hand written notes and receipts are in the mail the same day that we receive a check or receive notification of an electronic gift. Just to test us, Jason, why don’t you send us your next charitable gift electronically and see how long it takes for us to get your a thank you and receipt. 🙂

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