donor engagement

Ten ways to ensure your thank you letters connect with your charity's supporters

More than once in my professional life I have had the slightly surreal experience of drafting a thank you to a supporter who has written to thank me for a thank you I sent them.

I realise there are far too many ‘thanks’ in that sentence.

While I did have a dilemma each time about how to respond, I believe it’s evidence of the power of the humble thank you to make a real connection, to build genuine relationship and therefore ultimately further your charity’s aims.

Thank you letters can often be overlooked. Sometimes thanking is seen as a basic administrative task, like filing. But there’s a reason thanking is called ‘fulfilment’ in the business, and we forget this at our peril.

Charities invest considerably in multi-channel appeals, PR, social media, websites and analytics. But the thank you is one of the very few true human bridges between charity and supporter, and at its best it can be authentic, warm and memorable. This kind of experience gives a significant boost to a donor’s loyalty, in a way that few appeals, magazines or email campaigns can. 

Creating raving fans is the fundraiser’s holy grail. We ultimately seek to inspire people to the point that they become vocal advocates, and choose our charity as the beneficiary of their time and money throughout - and even beyond - their lifetime.

Feeling genuinely noticed and appreciated as an individual is increasingly rare in the busy-ness of 24/7 modern life with its constant demands and superficial interactions. A heartfelt, personal thank you can really stand out, and help turn a one-off supporter into a long term fan of your organisation.

Here’s how to ensure your thank yous create a meaningful connection:

1.     Change your organisational attitude. Give thanking the time, value and status it deserves. It’s not admin; it’s kindness, courtesy and warmth in letter form.

2.     Prioritise it. There’s no need for delay. A donor who receives a letter just a few days after giving will feel much more appreciated than the one who can’t quite remember donating. Set and stick to short turnaround times for thanking.

3.     Be accurate. Allocate the time to check all the details. Make sure the supporter’s name and address are correct. Double-check the amount, fund and Gift Aid status. If you send out a letter full of inaccuracies you’ll only succeed in alienating the recipient, making them feel even less valued than if they had received no response.

4.     Personalise it. No one really likes those impersonal printed thank yous with a ‘delete as appropriate’ line. Model your letter around the person you’re writing to. They did something great for you. Make the thank you fit them. Keep good records and use the information to tailor your letter. If your donor volunteers for you add a reference to this. If they’ve told you that they have a particular area of interest include a relevant update in the body of your text.

5.     Make it feel human. Hand-write the salutation, write ‘best wishes’ at the end, and sign your name. Add a note or a Post-It where relevant. Don’t use a digitised signature. Make sure your reader feels they’ve had an interaction with a real person, and not with mailmerge.

6.     Capture your reader’s imagination. Most of the pieces a charity sends out are essentially impersonal, but the thank you is a one-to-one communication. It’s therefore a great place to add a human story that will touch someone and stay with them. I once read about a boy from the Dominican Republic who grew up on a rubbish dump and had never been given a name. The charity I supported worked with him and helped him find a name – David. I’ve never forgotten his story, and have re-told it to friends and family.

7.     Don’t just focus on money – thank people for their time or engagement, for hosting an event or being an advocate.

8.     Use purple ink! Maybe another colour will work for you, but purple certainly works for my friend Liz, whose readers know that she is a real person, that she’s quite quirky and a lot of fun. Her purple ink-signed letters get a significantly higher response rate than those signed in black. It’s scientific and official. Sort of.

9.     Make it short. The point of the letter is the thanks, not passing on lots of statistics or messaging or making more asks. A good thank you should be short and sweet.

10.  Thank people for regular gifts as well as one-offs. Sometimes people can be quietly doing something heroic – giving every month, year-in, year-out, through times of plenty and times of hardship - and they are only thanked when they start giving, and then chased up when they stop. Make sure that’s not the case for your regular donors.

You might think this is a time-consuming approach, but if you’re a small charity it’s worth doing this for the impact you’ll have on the supporters you’re attracting. It’s hard and expensive to recruit new supporters, and it makes sense to give the ones you have the best possible treatment. If you’re a bigger charity, you’ll have resources to invest in growing your funding base, and building loyalty, goodwill and real connection is a strategic and effective way to do this.

By following these suggestions you will help make your reader smile. If their post is anything like mine it will be full of pizza delivery flyers, garden maintenance cards and charity collection plastic bags. Let your thank you letter stand out, and give the gift of gratitude to a person who’s done something great. 

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