The Power Of Thank You

Megan Donahue
Megan Donahue

From the server who draws a smiley face and “thank you!” on the back of your check, to giant brands like Zappos going on a “thank you tour” businesses understand the power of  “thank you.”

Are the businesses who go out of their way to thank their customers simply very polite folks? Maybe, but in the for-profit world, everything is analyzed in how it affects the bottom line. Customer appreciation is more than polite, it has a major impact on the customer’s future behavior.

Thanking your donors makes them want to give again.

Thank yous are a big part of nonprofit fundraising, too. You may have sent out a thank you letter or six today, even. But is donor acknowledgment part of your fundraising strategy, or just an item on your to-do list? Are you getting all the power out of your thank you?

Customer Appreciation Works

So let’s talk about those smiley faces on the back of your restaurant check. It’s cute, right? It’s also a practice that has been shown to increase tips. People like to be appreciated. They like it so much that it influences their behavior and mindset.

HEX, an accessories company, sends off their packages with a special enclosure: a handwritten thank-you note. It’s a little thing, but it can have a big impact. Customers notice it, even posting pictures of the notes on their social media. It ensures a nice, personal touch after the act of completing a purchase is over, prolonging the relationship.

I understand that it’s not exactly groundbreaking for me to tell you that you should thank your donors. Most nonprofits thank donors who make gifts. But thanking donors is more than an obligation or even plain old good manners–it’s also an opportunity to build their trust and increase their loyalty.

Let’s Talk About Donor Retention

Making a donation feels great at the moment. Most donors are pleased while making a gift. As time passes, though…well, your mileage may vary, but donor retention stats say that 60-70% of new donors do not give again.

Blech. That’s disappointing.

It also makes sense. As fundraising professionals, we track giving and keep donor data, put people on lists, and consider their giving potential. It’s quite possible that we think way more about our donors than they ever do of us, especially first-time donors. Many of them forget they ever gave. A thank you is their first reminder.

Moreover, new donors don’t have any loyalty to the organization and haven’t seen that the organization is trustworthy. They haven’t yet seen that the organization uses their money wisely to make an impact, is working for the change they say they are and is efficient and competent. A thank you is their first demonstration that you can be trusted.

But donor appreciation isn’t just about new donors. While new donors should be part of your overall development strategy, they should not get all your attention and resources. You’ll get a larger return on your investment by deepening your relationship with the donors you already have.

New donors are the most expensive to acquire, and the hardest to keep. You have to market to them, engage them, educate them on your cause, and ask them before they give. Moreover, the first-time gifts are rarely the biggest a person could give. Without established trust and loyalty, few people will give an organization the largest gift they can afford.

In contrast, established donors already know you exist and care about what you do. They’ve already made the decision to support you-you don’t have to “sell” them on it. It costs less to engage them because they’re already engaged. And, in general, people increase their giving over time, as they can afford to, especially if they feel involved. You just have to keep them coming back.

Take a look at this thank you video from Volunteers of America Northern California and Northern Nevada. Throughout, they emphasize that change is happening because of what they are doing together with their donors.

Appreciation Strategy

Thanks influence future generosity.

In a 2010 study, participants were asked to provide feedback to a fictitious student. Half of the participants received a thankful reply, the other half a neutral one. When asked to help him again, 32% of the people who received a neutral reply were willing, while 66% of the people who received thankful replies were ready to help again. The result is clear: receiving a message of gratitude makes people significantly more inclined to help down the road.

Imagine you helped a friend with something, something important. When your friend asked for your help, they really built the case that you’d make a big difference. So you got on board, helped them out, and then …

  • They sent you a thank you note that seemed like it came from a robot, or
  • They asked you for more help before thanking you for the first time, or
  • They never told you how the project turned out, or even worse…
  • You never heard from them again.
Ignoring donors makes them grumpy.
Oh. Okay. I see how it is. Cool.

What would you think? How would you feel? Would you trust that person? Would you feel like real friends, or like you got used?

Personally, I don’t know that I’d be excited to make a lot of time for a friend who treated me this way, yet nonprofits treat their donors like this all the time. We offer a perfunctory, impersonal thank-you, then disappear until it’s time to ask again. That’s if the donor gets thanked at all–13% of donors who stop giving to organizations do so because no one ever thanked them at all.

It’s easy to see that this behavior wouldn’t improve an interpersonal relationship, so why would it help a build a strong relationship between a donor and an organization?

Now let’s imagine a different scenario. Think if your friend asked you for help, which you gave, and then:

  • Sent you a warm, personal letter to thank you, or
  • Called you to thank you, or
  • Sent you pictures of the project throughout the process, or
  • Invited you to come see the project
Treat your donors like the special people they are.
We are now BFFs.

That’s a friend you can trust. I’d be excited to help again, wouldn’t you? As an organization, you can be this friend to your donors by creating a solid thank you letter, which you personalize whenever possible, checking in with impact updates, and taking any opportunity to say thank you.

Donors are heroes.
Does Charity: Water ever get tired of being so awesome?
Check out this thank-you GIF, a little reminder to donors that they mean a lot.

Gratitude wins!

Thanking your donors whenever and however you can make them feel special. It continues your conversation and keeps them engaged with the work you do. Ultimately, it helps build their loyalty, and deepens their trust, making them more likely to continue to give.

To Get Started Thanking Your Donors, Check Out:

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