Wow – yesterday’s post about thank you notes and the lack thereof got the conversation started! Thanks to everyone who took the time to add some thoughts to the debate.

Several people mentioned that the practical realities of nonprofit management mean that getting thank-you notes out promptly, especially when donations come through non-traditional channels for your organization, can be difficult.  Many nonprofits are chronically underfunded and understaffed and often under-skilled in the technology that could make things easier. I get it — really. Been there, done that. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a relatively small gift of $25 may not produce more than a shrug from the development office. I get that too, although I’m certainly less sympathetic to that point of view.

But here’s the thing. Think about how much time a typical nonprofit spends on generic “outreach,” like newsletters, with the purpose, at least in part, of generating new supporters.  If you are so pressed for time, wouldn’t those precious hours be better spent thanking the people who have taken the next step and given you money, no matter how much or through what method?

Just yesterday, before I wrote the post, I did a webinar on Nonprofit Marketing with Next to No Budget. One of my key points was to focus in on the people who matter most and to get personal with them. I specifically pointed out that saying thank you and doing it well, just by itself, was a major strategy for making your nonprofit stand out in donors’ eyes, because so few nonprofits do it well. If you are going to spend anytime on communications at all, shouldn’t it be with the people who have already demonstrated a commitment to your cause by contributing?

Advice to My Frazzled Nonprofit Friends

Give higher priority to your thank-you notes than to any other piece of communications you work on. The newsletter doesn’t go out, the website doesn’t get updated, your report to your board doesn’t get done, until you have sent some kind of thank-you to your donors. Take control of your work life and make it happen. If you don’t, I can pretty much guarantee that over the long haul, you will remain underfunded and understaffed.

Do what NPR did with my gift. If you get an email address, copy and paste it and shoot out a generic thank-you. This is what they sent me, with “NPR Thanks You!” as the subject line:

Dear Friend:

Thank you for your 2008 contribution to National Public Radio, made through Capital One. Your support helps NPR provide Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, Car Talk, News & Notes, From the Top and other news and cultural programming to listeners from Alaska to Florida and many countries overseas.

Again, many thanks for your generosity. NPR simply could not do it without you.

Sincerely,

Annie Callaway Davis,

Vice President for Development

(Sent by)

Dayna Taylor
Grants & Contributions Administrator

Granted, I would not hold this up as the best thank-you note ever, but the point is that they sent it, and they sent it promptly. It was the first one I received. I’m not rushing out to put NPR in my estate plans because of it, but this is good enough for me to donate another $25, should they get around to asking me to, and who knows after that. You can do this – anyone can!

Dealing with Donations Through Payment Services

It doesn’t matter whether you like getting gifts through Network for Good (NFG) or any other payment processor or not – you have to deal with it! The donor should get to make the decision about how they donate. You should certainly encourage them to use your preferred channels and to make that super easy, but don’t dis donors who don’t do it your way.

I happen to think that Network for Good is one of the best things to happen to the nonprofit sector in a long time. Yes, I’m friends with Katya Andresen, the COO, but I became friends with her because I admired so much what she was doing at NFG and on nonprofit marketing in general. NFG makes online giving possible for so many nonprofits who couldn’t pull it off on their own and they have also opened up lots of new ways for donors to fund causes they care about online. Look who NFG processes payments for now:

* Charity Navigator
* Guidestar
* Causes on Facebook
* Causes on MySpace
* Capital One (which I used as part of my experiment)
* Change.org
* And many others!

If you hope to use social media to raise money, you are going to have to figure this out, no matter how big or how small your nonprofit is.  NFG is trying to make it easier for you. They take care of the emailed tax receipt so the donor knows the transaction was successful, but it’s up to you to make the personal connection with your supporters. And right there in the email you get from NFG when they process a donation for you, they remind you to thank your donors directly. Sure, any system can always be improved, and Katya told me today that she and her staff are keeping track of all of the suggestions in the comments.

About Those Eight Nonprofits that Didn’t Acknowledge My Gift . . .

I just did some research on Guidestar. Only one of the eight is truly a small organization with a very limited budget and staff. The others are huge in comparison – they all have gross reciepts over $1 million. Two fall into the $30-80 million range and three are bringing in more than $100 million. These gifts were made over three months ago. It’s not about doing it in a timely fashion at this point, it’s about doing thank-yous at all. These organizations have the resources to acknowledge small gifts contributed online, if they really wanted to.

Keep the conversation going – leave a comment here or on the other post.

Published On: March 12, 2009

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