We all know the power of a simple thank you. Research abounds about the general well being and sense of worth generated by both the giver and receiver of the thank you, in business, with employees and in personal relationships.
When we enter the realms of philanthropy, research tells us that 65% of first-time donors don’t make a second gift, but that for 80% of those donors a simple ‘thank you’ would convince them to make a second donation. Small thank you acts can mean big returns all round.
How best to say a meaningful and memorable thank you to your donors and supporters?
An absolute must is a carefully crafted thank you note. The key is to keep this genuine and heartfelt. Old school post resonates more than email and in a digital era people really appreciate the effort of a hand-written note, or one signed by the team or the principal / CEO. This doesn’t have to be lengthy, as the thank you itself is the focus, but calling out specifics of the donation or support given and how it has helped your organisation go a long way to making the note memorable. Include facts and figures on what’s been achieved for the better as a result of the donation or time spent by your supporter.
Also make the letter as personal as possible and send it rapidly after the donation or service is rendered, so the action is still fresh in the receiver’s mind. If someone is donating to a long-running cause (such as a major capital appeal), make sure you share progress, as well as a wrap-up when you’re finished, as this shows your immediate appreciation and encourages ongoing giving to support towards the end goal. And change your tone to suit the individual – keep it formal for businesses donating, but warm and friendly to close supporters who you know well.
You can build on the standard note with some extra benefits such as a small thank you gift or photos of their donation in action (or of the careers event they spoke at etc). And this is also always a good time to ask for a follow up donation – consider enclosing a reply-paid envelope to allow an easy response of an additional pledge.
How to go the extra mile and ensure your thank you counts
Tom Robertson, Head of Development and Alumni at the Alpha Plus Group shared some great practical advice with the ToucanTech team on how to go the extra mile when saying thank you. First and foremost, Robertson says it’s important to make your donors feel involved – ‘ask them for advice and include them in strategic and governance decisions’, so they know their input is hugely valued, encouraging them to continue to give of their time and expertise, as well as monetary gifts.
Let donors feel special with some VIP treatment, such as discrete badges or more overt recognition by naming of buildings and spaces (which Robertson notes is especially valued by overseas donors). To bring the thank you to life, he suggests sending a video from those who’ve benefitted from the donation, such as students and staff benefiting from a new school facility.
And for an extra wow factor invite them to a gala dinner or networking event with drinks, dinner and entertainment – an experience they won’t forget. ‘Encourage donors to bring a guest who also might be inclined to support’ Robertson practically notes, so your thank you continues the growth of your donor pool. If you’re able to access any money can’t buy opportunities (such as offering up donated centre court mens’ finals Wimbledon tickets), offer these to a highest bidder amongst a small group of your major donors. Not only will the immediate donation come in handy, the exclusive nature of the offer and experience will keep your institution front of mind for many years to come.
A truly personal thank you
Careful stewardship of donors, through building a strong personal relationship and ensuring your thank you is truly personal, will continue to drive ongoing rewards for all.
Alexa Broad, the Development Director at Abingdon School, UK, shared a wonderfully heart-warming story with the ToucanTech team of how building a close relationship with an old boy alumnus resulted in not only generating the best Christmas cards and raising the profile of the Old Boy association within the wider school community, but also made a lifelong supporter feel immensely valued.
Showcase: Abingdon School and the tale of the griffen that gives
“An 85-year-old Old Abingdonian sent me a small painting of a griffen playing in the snow. He rarely paints anymore but had clearly poured love and dedication in to this despite his painful hands. He wondered if we might be able to use it at all. To explain, the griffen is on Abingdon’s crest, it carries great importance for the school and is universally recognised if you know Abingdon! I thanked him profusely and had a long chat with him, hearing how cut off his life had become and his reliance on regular, and very kind, carers. He still carries deep memories and fondness for the school and has been a regular low-level donor.
I showed the painting to my Head and Marketing Manager, telling them David’s story, how he studied at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford prior to his National Service. I knew the Head’s PA always needed ideas for the Head’s Christmas cards each year. I felt David’s griffen, in Abingdon cerise and with its playful manner, would make a perfect card with David’s bio on the back as an OA. I’m trying to raise the profile of OAs with the community here and increase engagement, so any chance to profile OAs is welcome.
The Head and all agreed with me and we created some stunning Christmas cards. I decided to use some of my budget to ask for the same design with different messages inside. I sent this card to our donors and volunteers last year, the card was a really good conversation piece amongst OAs and parents and certainly grabbed attention.
Just before Christmas David wrote to me to say thank you for the wonderful sets of cards which he received, and he also became a signed up legator. More than anything, he was genuinely touched by the effort we put in.”
Alexa Broad, Development Director, Abingdon School, UK.
Use technology for effective stewardship
When someone gives, whether time or money, it’s important to both recognise, and also to remember that effort.
Keeping tabs on your donors and supporters, their giving journey so far and their potential to give in the future, requires an effective technology solution. Give careful consideration to the information you need to collate and how best to store this to ensure that your thank yous and future communications are packed full of individualised content. You don’t want to forget important elements such as how much has been given over time, that a donor always likes to remain anonymous, that a supporter likes to be involved in careers events, or that a particular date (such as a giving anniversary) is important to a VIP giver. Use a well-structured database to store important donor data and an effective CRM platform to communicate, setting up scheduled reminders for key dates or to keep in touch regularly and segmenting the data by core criteria to identify your VIPs or the right target audience for a sponsor event. The aim is to keep information and reminders automated, but to keep the actual interactions personal.
And don’t forget to use technology to continue to spread the giving message and to share your gratitude with the wider community. Promote generous gifts and acts via your website – think about setting up a specific element of your site for recognition – and throughout your social media channels. Encourage your supporters to share to their own online networks too. Amplifying the generosity will not only make the donor feel very special, but will encourage others to give also, continuing to expand the virtuous circle of giving.
Showcase: The Institute of Development Studies’ thank you post for Scholarships supporters
ToucanTech’s top tips
To recap, ToucanTech has four top tips to ensure your thank you counts:
1. Always send a prompt and thoughtful thank you note
2. Reinforce this message with a memorable ‘extra’ – a little effort goes a long way
3. Keep it personal
4. Make your tech carry the heavy load – automate reminders, but individualise the interactions
Following these steps each time a supporter gives will ensure your thank you, and therefore your institution, remains truly top of mind.
ToucanTech is a community database software specifically created to support alumni, development and fundraising teams in schools and universities. ToucanTech’s flexible solution gives you the power to manage all alumni, fundraising and careers activities in one place.
Sam Bellringer has nearly 20 years’ experience managing fundraising and alumni data. This is his advice on how to store and streamline your data to … More...