I once had a friend who used to bid me farewell by exclaiming, "Up 'yer kilt!" Where Jock is today and how many pals he still has I cannot tell. But his original and startling phrase reminds me of a vital truth in direct mail fundraising: How you thank your donors and how your donors hear you thank them can be two different things.
Strangely enough, in the process of thanking donors, some fundraisers actually offend them. Here are some of the classic mistakes to avoid in your gift acknowledgement letters, notes and cards.
Mistake #1: "Dear Friend"
I think I can affirm without fear of contradiction that the only people who address you as "friend" are the people who are not your friends. If they knew you well, they'd address you by name. If you thank a donor with a letter that begins "Dear Friend," you are likely to thank them and tick them off at the same time.
Mistake #2: "We are in receipt of your gift"
Your thank-you letters need to be sincere. But the quickest way to kill sincerity on paper is to speak in formal tones and generalities: "We are in receipt of your donation." "We are grateful for the support recently received from donors like you."
When you give a friend a present, you expect the friend to thank you for that gift in particular. "Thank you, darling, for this beautiful ring." "Thank you, Dad, for my new bike." Avoid impersonal generalities by naming the gift you are thankful for.
Mistake #3: Asking for another gift
You don't intend to sound greedy or ungrateful when you request another gift in your thank-you letter, but that's how the majority of donors perceive you. They think you're being rude. That's why I counsel my clients to request only one thing in their donation thank-you letters--that the donor accept their deepest, sincerest thanks..
Mistake #4: Too late
How long does a donor have to wait for a thank-you before assuming you are not grateful? Two weeks? One month? Three months? In direct mail fundraising, there's no such thing as thanking a donor too quickly. Every day of delay is a day for your donor to thing your organization is disorganized or ungrateful. Since neither of these two things is the case, aim to mail your donation thank-you letters, cards and notes within 24 hours of receiving a gift.
Few people misunderstand a sincere thank-you that's well said and promptly delivered. Thanking your donors promptly and particularly, and sincerely, not only keeps your donors happy--it keeps your donors. And these days, any tool that helps with donor retention is something to be thankful for.
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