Donors are Testing Nonprofits, and Nonprofits Are Failing
According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, first-time donor retention is a measly 19%. While repeat donor retention is much better at 63%, that still means 1 in 3 current donors don’t give again. Overall, the median donor retention rate is just 43%.
It’s not a huge mystery as to why. Donors want something quite simple: a prompt, meaningful thank you letter and additional communication that explains how the donation was used. That’s it. Eighty percent of donors say that would convince them to make the second gift, according to Penelope Burk’s research. That’s their test for the nonprofit sector, and we are largely failing it.
A big part of the problem is bad thank yous. Many nonprofits send something more like a transaction receipt that speaks to a donor’s inner bookkeeper more than a donor’s inner angel. Let’s speak to that angel!
Here are five clever approaches to thank yous.
1. Write a Greeting Card, Not a Business Letter
The best nonprofit thank yous feel friendly, warm, and personal. And yet they are still relatively short. Even if your thank you appears on stationery, think of a good Hallmark card as you write (not the ones with four paragraphs of flowery script, but the shorter ones that lay it all out there in under 30 words). They feel personal, even though we know they were written for thousands of others.
2. Share Recent Progress, However Small
Your supporters want to know that they matter. So give them little gems of progress that show that with their support — and directly because of that support — you are bringing about some kind of change, or making life easier for someone, or advancing the cause. Maybe it’s a short anecdote, or a telling testimonial, or even an impressive statistic.
3. Add an Invitation – But Not to Something that Requires Another Donation!
You want your supporters to stay on with you, so invite them to do so, without asking for another financial donation. Invite them to your next free event, a behind-the-scenes tour, or a special conference call with a staff expert. Mention any volunteer opportunities, and ask them to follow you on Facebook or Twitter.
4. Use a More Creative, Personal Opening
Forget “On behalf of” or “Thank you for” and start your letters with a more creative and personal opening. Try something like, “You made my day” on one line by itself. Then jump into a story: “Your donation crossed my desk today and . . .” Explain how the money will be used. Or start with, “I have a great story to share with you.” Launch right into a success story and then talk about how the donation will create even more happy stories.
5. Include Results-Oriented Photography
Including photos, either in the body of the letter or stuffed in the envelope, will make an instant connection between your donor and your work. A photo of a client or smiling people making a difference out there in the world will light up your donor’s day. Get a group of people who your organization helps together and take a photo of them holding a big banner that says “Thank You.”
What other edits have you made to your thank you letters to improve them? Share in the comments.