I once worked for a President who was known to say, “we can never say thank you enough to our donors.” A wonderful sentiment for 501(c)3 leaders and advancement professionals to embrace.
And, as important as it is to thank donors often, it also is important to thank them in meaningful and customized ways. For most advancement operations it all starts with the gift acknowledgement letter. Before we get sophisticated with special events or naming opportunities for major gifts, we must first master the thoughtful and timely gift thank you letter.
The 3 most important aspects of an effective donor acknowledgement letter are below:
- The signing of the letter – Should our President/CEO, other institutional leader, or an advancement staff person sign the letter? In most instances, my approach is to have the President/CEO or another key institutional leader sign each gift letter.
- The timing of the letter – How quickly are we getting the letter out to our donors? My counsel to clients is to have letters either emailed or mailed to donors within 48 hours of gift receipt.
- The uniqueness of the letter – It can be easy to get on “auto-pilot mode” with our thank you letters. But, for our repeat donors, how do we ensure that they do not receive the same thank you letter for multiple gifts?
To help answer the question posed in the 3rd point above, Lynne Wester, director of stewardship and donor recognition at Yeshiva University in New York, has collected and posted over 500 gift acknowledgement letters on her site. I encourage you to read through the many versions of donor thank you letters to get fresh ideas for your shop to utilize.
Our donors deserve to be thanked quickly and by a senior leader at our institution. But it is just as important to thank each donor’s gift uniquely.
When we take the time to thank donors with fresh messages, we evidence a stewardship program which is not on auto pilot. Instead, we demonstrate a sincere gratefulness for our donors and their generosity.