It is always interesting to me how some managers approach the timing of a “thank you” when it comes to giving. It’s as if any kind of delay is acceptable. Let’s make this really personal and see how it feels to you.
You come into my office and give me a copy of a book you knew I really wanted. Yep. You went out and bought it, walked in and handed it to me. And when I received that book from your generous and gracious hands, I looked up from my computer and nodded then went back to the document I was working on.
How would you feel? I can imagine the nasty labels you would attach to me and my behavior.
Or, let’s say, you knew that I had just lost my job, and at coffee one morning I shared with you that I was short $500 to pay my mortgage this month. So you decided to give me the money. And you mailed me a check for $500 which I received and banked. But you didn’t hear from me for three weeks.
How would you feel? I think you might wonder if you should have given me the money. Or at least you might judge that I was a little short on thankfulness.
Well, these life-like situations bring the whole thanking activity closer to where we live. It gets personal very quickly. We can all agree that it is important not only to express thankfulness when people do things for us, but it is also important to express our thanks soon after we were given the gift. It’s like the value of our thanks diminishes the longer we wait. Or maybe the sincerity of the thanks seems to diminish. Either way, it’s not good. The giver is definitely affected by what appears to be an unthankful heart.
This whole timing thing came into sharp focus when I became aware of a giving situation that unfolded just a week ago. Here are the details:
- A manager emails the MGO that “today, a donor who last year gave $1,000 just gave a generous $20,000!” The manager is very excited about this gift and can’t wait to tell her MGO.
- The MGO writes back and wonders who the donor is and suggests that the donor should immediately be thanked, and a plan to steward the donor should be developed. The MGO also offers to call the donor up and thank her.
- The manager writes back: “well, it will take some time for various departments to process the gift, and I will be out for 15 days, so thanking the donor will have to wait a bit until I come back.”
What is wrong with this story? It’s a manager who is more focused on the organization and its processes (and her personal needs) than she is on the donor. It’s pretty sad when a donor gives $20,000 and is made to wait for her thanks until the manager can “get around to it.”
Is this going on in your organization? Are your donors being abused by a system that grinds at its own pace with no regard for donors and their feelings? If so, you must try to stop it.
While I am on the subject of thanking donors, I want to share with you Jeff’s and my philosophy of thanking. It is essentially summed up in the phrase you can never thank a donor fast enough (timing) or enough (frequency).
This may sound basic, and it is. But we keep reading the writings of so-called fundraising gurus and strategists that suggest the opposite.
One said that for those donors who give monthly, you should consider thanking them every quarter, because it “costs too much” to thank them monthly. Another said you should limit your thanks to email instead of an actual letter, because the letter is so labor-intensive and “it will take time and cost a lot.”
Are you getting the sense that what matters to these people is what the organization will have to go through (or pay) in order to thank the donor, rather than what the donor deserves or wants? I am. And it is this kind of thinking that causes shabby donor treatment, which leads to high donor attrition.
To return to the main point: would you like to be thanked the way your organization thanks donors? If not, it’s time to re-tool attitudes and systems to match a version of the old adage: “thank others as you would like to be thanked.”
I wholeheartedly agree with the tone and tenor of your post, but don’t agree with your conclusions on monthly givers. I believe that many monthly givers, including myself, do not want monthly paper thank yous because we consider it wasteful and unnecessary — and also kind of annoying. Monthly donors seems different, but we are resolving this at my org by making monthly e-mail thank yous the default but giving donors the option to receive paper thank yous.
hi, thanks for this post, very important to thank your donors right away. The one point you make I disagree with is to send ongoing ‘standard’ thank yous to your monthly donors every month.
If the donor joined your monthly giving program online, he or she will receive monthly email thank yous and those are great opportunities to confirm the tremendous difference the donor is making and tell another great story. Recognize him/her as a special member of the (name of program) club… and make them feel special.
If the donor joined your monthly giving program via direct mail, telemarketing or perhaps via canvassing or other medium, I recommend sending them an extensive thank you for joining, and a special communications plan with thank yous built into donor updates, be it newsletters or direct mail appeals.
I find that most organizations are not mailing more than 4 times a year (if that) so it’s okay to send a special story and another reason to give along with tremendous thanks.
Most donors do not want the organization to spend money on monthly thank you letters, I’ve done the research.
Always recognize, always thank the donor for being a part of the (name of program) monthly giving club in any communications with them is more important and making it clear upfront to the donor what they can expect is was well.
in other words don’t promise something you can’t fulfill and your monthly donor will be eternally grateful and stay with you for many years to come.
Happy to answer any specific questions you may have, cheers,
author of Monthly Giving. The Sleeping Giant.
Hi, Paul and Erica. I don’t mention sending ongoing ‘standard’ paper thank yous to monthly donors in my post altho I can see how you got to that by what I did say. So, to be clear, I am not prescribing HOW a donor should be thanked but that a donor should be thanked.
So this is not about monthly letters or monthly pledgers and whether donors want to be thanked or not using letters – it is solely about actually thanking the donors, which is the point of my post – and thanking them as close to the actual giving of the gift as possible.
However, turning to the subject of monthly givers and thank yous…. I like and agree with your recommendation, Erica, to have a communication plan that integrates thanking in with telling the donor she made a difference. Excellent!
The key is to be sure that the thank you is as close to the gift as possible. Do that in anyway that makes sense: email, letter, phone, visit, newsletter, etc. And often a ‘paper’ thank you is just what is needed. But the circumstance will drive that decision.
While some donors may have an opinion on HOW they are thanked, I have never met one that didn’t want to be thanked. And that is what we cannot fail to do.
Thanks so much, both of you, for writing. Good input.