Direct Mail, Strategy & Planning

As children, as graduates, as newlyweds, we learned that if we received a gift, a thank you note was due in return. That courtesy is just as important in fundraising. In fact, according to the latest research from Penelope Burk at Cygnus Research, a timely thank you note is one of the single most important things you can give a donor in order to secure future gifts. Watch the webinar recording to find out what to say and when to say it.


Sarah: Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Sarah and I’m with Allegiance Software and I’ll be hosting today’s webinar. Today’s proven practice webinar topic is Acknowledgements and Thank Yous and our presenter is Virginia Dambach. Virginia works with Greater Public, formerly DEI, public radio and television stations around the country, and local and regional nonprofit organizations in the areas of development, assessment, grant writing, direct marketing and fundraising planning, implementation, and analysis.

Welcome Virginia.

Virginia: Thanks a lot, Sarah. We’ll just get right into it.

I’ve heard it from accounting people for many years, that why are you wasting money sending thank you notes, it’s just a waste of postage, because they think that everything that goes out in the mail needs to be an ask. And in fact, Penelope Burke at Cygnus Research has found that acknowledging contributions promptly and meaningfully is one of the top three means to assure donor loyalty and to increase giving over time. Or as your grandmother may have said to you as mine said to me, “If you expect to receive gifts in the future, I expect a prompt thank you note.” That is learned early on and we as development professionals need to learn that a thank you note needs to be timely and noticeable and as heartfelt as our requests for funding do and repetition does matter. I don’t think you can thank a person enough, and thank them by email, by mail and with personal calls, and of course, if you see them at an event. Timing is everything when it comes to thank Processing thank yous daily and mailing within 48 hours of the receipt of the gift is ideal.

A handwritten thank you for larger gifts should be written and mailed within 24 hours of the gift receipt. And that can be by you as the membership manager or the development director or the major gifts officer. Or depending on your protocol, perhaps the general manager, or even the chair of your board. But someone, if you’re looking at a larger gift, however you define that, a handwritten thank you in addition to the more quote, normal thank you would be an order. At the very minimum, you need to process and mail thank you notes on a weekly basis. And for sustainer gifts, they need to be thanked immediately after the first payment is processed. You don’t need to thank them for every monthly gift, but for the first payment, they need to get the thank you and the acknowledgement of their sustaining gift.

And the notes should be as personal as possible. Email thank you notes worked beautifully. Preprinted thank you notes are okay. Bulk but personalized thank you notes will work, handwritten thank you notes are great, personal phone calls. All of those delivery methods work. And you just pick one, pick three, segment your file however you want, but make sure that the folks who give you money get a thank you note in one of those forms. An email thank you note that goes to all donors with an email address. This is one type of segmentation you can do. And I’m not talking about an auto response. If someone fills out a form and submits it, they’ll get an auto response in most cases, but that is not considered a thank you note.

That’s just a computerized acknowledgement that a transaction occurred. Personalized bulk mail, merge thank you notes to those without email addresses, gifts over 500 receive on additional handwritten thank you note from a major gift officer or the development director. Gifts over a thousand receive a personal thank you phone call from the GM.

And that’s in addition to the note from the major gift officer or development director, and in addition to the personalized generic thank you note that you send out regularly. So getting to the writing of the thank you notes, and I think this is where the most questions come in. So targeting your copy, we’re going to cover that for new and renewing and also program preferences and format so that you can really personalize it a little.

Here’s a couple of samples. And this is the thank you email. So it has the thank you for your gift, Mrs. Smith. Thank you for supporting KMPR, Mrs. Annette. So just read through that a minute, and you can see the words in brackets are the personalizations that you should be able to program in for your software, so that it will actually insert the right amount and leverage you know the city, because people like to know that you’re paying attention to where they live. A copy of this presentation will be available online if you want to make note. And here’s the thank you. It’s a very similar thank you for a classical gift and it just makes it a little more personalized if you can differentiate between those format types. So you know that the person is depending on you for your source of outstanding music performed by dynamic orchestras, singular, soloists, and brilliant composers.

And it should sound heartfelt, and it should be personal. So these samples represent that. And if you’re AAA, if you have jazz, personalize it as much as you can.

Take a look and read those at your leisure. And I would ask you if you have samples of thank you notes, we’d love to build our library here. So you can send them to me or to Sarah, and we will Include them in our library. So we can have many different samples to show people.

And if you’re a Christian station, there’s different language, different motivations. So just approach it as what you need to do for your particular market and constituents and make it real.

The new member thank you is going to be slightly different than a thank you for a long-time member. And because you want to point out what it is that is the basis of this relationship by becoming a member, you understand that taking care of our public radio service in this area is the responsibility of each one of us who relies on it and is enriched by it. And with your support, our local, national, and international news teams will continue to dig deeper to gather the news and analysis you’re eager to hear. So bring it to the point of why being a member is so very important. And for a handwritten thank you, it helps to have nice handwriting. This is one, “Thank you so much for your extraordinary support of Prairie Public Television. Prairie Public’s success in enhancing the quality of life today ensures a rich legacy for tomorrow’s children. Thus, your generosity is very much appreciated and really does make a difference.”

And I know Patti had a series of 12 thank you, because she was the major donor officer. And so she wrote out 12 very lovely thank yous. And then she kept track – this person has gotten thank yous one, two and three, so I’ll send them number four. Once you’ve got a really good thank you note, you can use it again and again, with minor changes.

Thank you call script. And this is something you can have your volunteers do if you’re having a pledge drive or a marathon of some type, you can call your donors and it is amazing what a call like this will do, what it will make people feel like. And it doesn’t cost you anything. And your donors are going to talk about it for years.

You say, “This is Virginia. I’m a volunteer calling on behalf of Prairie Public. First, I’m not selling anything, and I’m not going to ask you for money. Prairie Public would just like to thank you for becoming a member and recognizing the need to support public radio programming. As a member, you can take pride in knowing that you’re directly responsible for keeping our high-quality programs on the air. So thank you!”

And then you can ask for comments. It is amazing because I got a call just like this from Minnesota Public Radio. And it’s probably been 15 years, but I still talk about it because it was such a surprise because Minnesota Public Radio was mostly asking for money every time I talked to them. And here to get this phone call out of the blue, from a volunteer who I did happen to know, was worthy of note and people don’t get very much personal service anymore. So I think you would find the same thing if your volunteers, or if you wanted to get even your board members together for an afternoon of calling, whatever would work for you, but give it a try. I think you would be pleasantly surprised if you haven’t done it before.

And then beyond the initial thank you. What a lot of people call stewardship, but that’s just deepening that relationship with your donor. And a member survey is one way to go. And this is something if you really want to extend that thank you and get that feeling of involvement, three times during a member year you should be in touch when you’re not asking for money and hopefully, you’ll be in touch a lot more than that, but just three times a year, where you ask people to relate to you on a personal level. ” We’d love to hear more about you and what’s most important to you on our station. Your priorities will help us personalize your experience. So please take this five-minute survey and keep an eye out for more information, event invites, and other general goodness or a token of thanks.” And this is not something that you promise people. It’s not something that you offer on the air. It’s not something that is expected from you. This is an unexpected token of thanks. And I mean, you can have their copy can say anything you want. This is just some sample copies.

“I love it when I’m out around Fargo and I see a Prairie Public sticker on a car, or a laptop, or in the window of a local business. It’s a visual reminder of the terrific community we belong to and how the classical music on Prairie Public connects people, especially during times when we often feel that there’s so much divisiveness, I wanted to check in and see if you have a station sticker, and if you’d like us to send you one! Fill out this quick form and we’ll drop it in the mail so you can display it.”

For this particular sample they don’t send it out blind. They ask if you want one. Most often I’ve seen stations just send it out without asking for the request. It can be done either way.

Here’s another way. This is a six-month checkup and there’s two different station samples. One of them is a plain postcard, as you can see on the right, the other one on the left is a window cling. So that’s why the call letters are backwards, but they basically give you a way to touch your member.

And it says, “You’ve been a member for six months and it’s time to check up. So how are we doing? Have you received a new member welcome kit? Did you receive your copy of the monthly program guide? Did it arrive before the first of the month? Have your membership or program questions been answered promptly and accurately? If you’re not entirely satisfied with your membership, please write or call me.”

So just another way to be in touch with your members to get them to respond to you. And this card, is one of the ways you’ll find out if there are problems and for 98% of your members, there won’t be. But for that 2%, if you can get them to respond to you now at six months into their membership so that you can get their names spelled right, or deliver their premium that they didn’t get, or whatever their problem is and get that solved. Their likelihood of renewing is much higher than if the first time they get a chance to respond to you was when you send out the renewal notice. And the response is ‘I’m not going to renew because I never got my X, or you couldn’t bother to spell my name right’, or whatever else is irritating your members. So this is an ideal way to resolve issues before that renewal cycle begins.

An annual report is another means. Donors really do want to know what you’re doing with the money they send. And it has very little to do with the level of the gift. They just want to know.

So send a cover letter with your annual report to donors that give you more than $500. And you can send an email message or a mailed note, letting all your donors know the annual report is available on request or posted on your website. And send the donors a link via email or mail so that they can look up and see what your annual report says, how much money is coming in and how much money is going out and what it’s doing, what it’s impacted.

Short and sweet and to the point. Do we have some questions, Sarah?

Sarah: Let’s open it up for questions. I prefer to use email for initial thank yous. But after we’ve emailed a thank you to donors, we’ve had people opt out of further emails or tell us they don’t want to be contacted via email. This impacts our donor email lists down the line. It means we can’t email them during drive. Any recommendations?

Virginia: Hm, you could, instead of sending them the initial email, you could start by sending them a letter because then they wouldn’t have the opportunity. Well, they always have an opportunity to opt out, but you wouldn’t give it to them straight off.

Do you know what percentage of people opt out? Because I would look at that closely before I changed anything. Because if it’s a dozen people who opt out, out of hundreds that you send email thank yous, it wouldn’t be a reason to go to a mail thank you and exclude email thank yous because the cost would be so much higher if it’s just a tiny percentage of your membership. However, if it’s 30 or 40% of the people you send thank yous to opt out, then I would think of perhaps not starting with an email thank you but starting with a printed thank you. And save the emails for updates.

Sarah: And then is it possible instead of only having an opt-out, maybe have, because I know that if you sign up to be on our email list here at Allegiance, you can manage your preferences. And I don’t know how hard those are to set up, but you can say things like, I prefer not to receive sales, but I do want to receive your newsletters or…

Virginia: Right. That’s a good point, Sarah. If you need to know how to code your member requests for no email or no mail or no solicitation mail, you can do all of those things very easily.

Sarah: We’re a university licensed station, so they send receipts monthly for us. People get annoyed when we also send thank yous. As we get more calls when we do both.

Virginia: If the university sends them for you, A, I hope they’re not charging you.

But B, are they making sure that the thank you is clearly posted as a gift to the station? I would want to make sure of that because it’s not a gift just to the university. It’s to the station that’s licensed to the university.

Sarah: Okay. So follow up to the university license station question. Yes, it is a gift to the station, and they handle that part fine, but require they send out the receipt.

Virginia: Okay. So the university has to send out the receipt. I hope that it’s at least co-branded with the station and the university. Because I know in lots of cases, if the university makes it look like it’s a gift to the university and not the station, then they’re going to open themselves up for a lot of calls and your donors aren’t going to be happy. So if they do a reasonable job with the thank yous and it’s co-branded, I would wish they would do it more often than monthly and perhaps for major donors, I would try to make sure that you’re doing thank yous in a more timely way. But in your thank you, you could note that ‘you will get a formal acknowledgement also from the university later this month’, just so that they know it’s not a duplicate, it’s just that you’re thanking them from the station and the university.

You mentioned a welcome packet, which I don’t know how many stations do that, but in that initial thank you maybe to say, “Thank you from the station. You will be receiving a receipt each month for your payment from the university.” Just pointing out that there is a difference.

Right, there’s a difference.

Sarah: Okay. Another question. With email being available is it best to send two thank yous, one in an email, one in snail mail? Or do you choose one or the other?

Virginia: If you’ve got email addresses and people haven’t opted out, I would send them an email thank you.

If you don’t have email addresses or if people have opted out of receiving emails, then I would send a mail thank you. I don’t think you need to send both, except in that occasion where it’s an auto-response from the computer just because the transaction has taken place, that is not really a thank you. It’s just that acknowledgement, we got your money.

Sarah: All right. Any more questions?

Oh, good. Another question. Would personalizing thank yous based on gift type, like thank you for your add gift, thank you for your sustaining gift?

Virginia: Yeah. If you have that capacity, the more you can personalize it the better, especially I think with add gifts, because there is confusion sometimes with people not understanding our definitions of a renewing gift and an additional gift. So I would always say, “Thank you for your additional gift over and above your annual contribution” or your membership contribution, whatever language you use.

Sarah: Over and above your sustaining gift.

Virginia: Right.

Sarah: Is it a good idea to put the dollar amount of the gift and.

Virginia: If you can, yes, that’s fine. And if that’s a field you can merge. If you add the language required by the IRS, that means your thank you notes can also serve as a tax receipts and many, many stations do that.

My personal preference is to send a thank you note and then a tax receipt at the end of the year, which will give the cumulative giving for the full year

Sarah: As a donor and recipient, I think I would prefer that too. Because if my sustaining gift rolls over in October, if I had to keep track of that tax receipt for more than the two months I have to keep track of it, I’d be in trouble.

Virginia: But there’s lots of ways to do it. And I would say what your software allows and what your donors prefer make a difference.

Next month, our topic is integrating planned giving. And this means integrating planned giving into your normal fundraising activities without having to have dedicated staff. Oh, that’s right. Excellent. All right. Last call for questions again, you can always contact us at one of those emails listed there. The support line phone number is also listed there.

Thanks so much for joining us today and we’ll see many of you next month.