How well do you thank your donors?

August 6, 2013

My colleagues and I have been talking a lot about stewardship these last few months, because it’s such an important part of the donor relationship.

That’s why I’m so pleased that non-profits (including some of our clients) are paying closer attention to donor stewardship and accountability.

Appropriately acknowledging a gift includes promptly thanking donors for their generosity, and reporting back on how their dollars were spent. You can go about acknowledging gifts in a thoughtful way by developing an appropriate stewardship calendar.

If you already have one (and kudos to you if you’re already doing this), I’d like to suggest that you take a few minutes over the summer to review your existing calendar, and look for opportunities to refine your stewardship process.

A thank you letter is first and foremost

Consider sending all of your donors a personalized thank you letter that speaks directly to them about the specific area they’ve supported. If you don’t have the resources, or if preparing a personalized letter will delay the receipting process, a standard thank you letter will do the trick (ideally you want to get the tax receipt out in 24-48 hours). Even better if you can add a live signature and handwritten note!

For new donors, it’s important that you acknowledge their first gift and make them feel welcome. Ensure you include a name and contact phone number in case they have any questions. You should also include additional information about your organization, such as an impact report or newsletter that highlights the work being done, thanks to donor support. A donor preference survey would be a great addition as well.

A thank you phone call will leave a lasting impression

In my past life, calling donors just to say thank you was part of my work. I can’t tell you how often donors were left completely and pleasantly surprised when they received a call thanking them for their gift, and nothing more! I used to refer to this as “deer caught in the headlights” because you could just hear them waiting with bated breath for the segue into a donation request. Look for opportunities to engage your volunteers and board members and coordinate a “thank-a-thon”. I guarantee your donors will love it!

Include your business card

It’s important for your donors to know that they can reach out you (a live person!) if ever they have any questions about your work or the organization, or if they misplace their tax receipt.

Include information about opportunities to increase their commitment to the organization

Donors these days want to play an active role in the charities and causes they support. Some donors may be willing to volunteer their time or skills, while some may choose to increase their commitment by becoming a monthly donor or making a gift in their will. Including a brief insert that promotes one or both of these options is a great opportunity to invite your donors to increase their commitment and helps keep these giving options top of mind.

Include a business reply envelope

Encourage two-way communication by including a pre-paid return envelope. You may even get a surprise gift!

Any ideas of your own that you’d like to share?

I hope this has given you something to think about as we head into the dog days of summer. I’d love to hear from you regarding how promptly your donors receive a tax receipt for their gift and the types of information you send their way.

Stay tuned for part two next month, when my colleague Holly Wagg tackles stewardship ideas geared to online donors.


This post was written by Heather Brown, former Philanthropic Counsel at Good Works and fundraiser extraordinaire. The article originally appeared at Hilborn: the leading provider of information to Canada’s nonprofit sector.

4 thoughts on “How well do you thank your donors?

  1. Hi Heather,
    You make excellent points and I LOVE stewardship. You article, however, doesn’t go far enough. Stewardship is not just thank you. Thank you is what polite people do so our donors expect it. Great stewardship takes it two steps further — reporting back to our donors about the impact their gift had (four or five months after the gift is made for annual or regular gifts and nine six to nine months for major gifts) and connecting donors directly to that impact in creative and personal ways.

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