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Using process in a 19th century factory

Appreciation is NOT a Process

donors fundraisers gratitude Jan 26, 2021

Appreciation is about creating connection...

Not long ago, in before times, I was having lunch with two fundraisers.

We face similar challenges and opportunities - each of us wanted to increase our capacity around major gifts and planned to better engage our donors.

"So, what about thank you letters?" I asked. "I'm just going through a refresh for this year, and..." Both of them sighed. 

"Ours are all signed by the Chair of the Board. Of course, the Board Chair never actually signs any letters. It's just a printed signature."

"Ours were just awful," my colleague groaned. "My predecessor did everything because she liked to have a lot of control in the office, but the letters... it was one of the first things I worked on."

For my part, when I arrived at the nonprofit in question, very few letters - only those above the major gift level - received a live signature. With only about 2,500 active donors and members, I didn't think my organization could afford to "phone it in" by just merging up letters without any personal touch, a note or impression of interest.


Worse, in my opinion, was that the donors making a memorial gift never got a live signature. Why? At this organization signing letters by hand took "too much time." I'm a long-time fan of writing notes on donor thank you letters in addition to the signature - something personal that connects with the donor. And if I know the donor, or know this is a second gift this year, why not mention it?

As the three of us talked, it came down to the fact that thank you letters have become a "process" in many organizations, rather than an appreciation. Or even the idea that a thank you letter isn't the end of the gift giving process, but the first step for the next gift. Charities may ensure thank yous and tax receipts are "turned around quickly" but there should be authentic gratitude and connection to the impact the nonprofit is making.

The thank you letter process is not, in itself, bad... it guarantees (almost) that each donor is thanked. But that process can quickly become dehumanized, removing grace and gratitude from what likely began as a moment of joy for the donor.

Lots of trusted fundraisers point to the importance of thank you letters. Do you craft the thank you letter when you create the solicitation, direct mail campaign or organize an event? Work on the thanks at the front end, and don't make it an after thought. 

You and your team put in a lot of effort  to create strategies for major gift donors, craft direct mail solicitations, or write proposals. Why should the effort to thank be any less? If your organization can create thank you letters that are personalized and express thanks from the heart, they will be the first step in your donor stewardship.

Relationship building with donors - no matter the level or frequency of giving - creates a more sustainable future for the clients or cause you serve. Make sure yours feels like handshake or hug, rather than an output of a process. 


Are you having trouble showing satisfactory appreciation to your donors? Is it showing in your retention rates? Let's talk about how I can help you implement a solution!

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