Donors Are Not ATM Machines: Thank Them Frequently


I met with a very generous and prolific community donor recently. Last year, this person made a very generous, last minute contribution to a local organization to help them out of a pickle. We’ll call this donor “Dill” – get it, “Dill” got them out of a pickle. OK, sorry. Back to the story.

So, Dill told me about this generous contribution, given because Dill personally supports the cause and because a trusted friend asked. The organization thanked Dill for this gift right after it was made then crickets. Nothing. No thank you from the executive director. Not a word from the development director. No follow up on the impact of the gift on the clients the organization serves. Nothing from the organization until Dill received an email with an “invoice” to contribute the same amount this year. That did not sit well for Dill!

To add insult to injury, after reviewing the list of annually contributions, Dill noted that about half of the recipients never follow up other than to send the required thank you letter and tax receipt. Dill decided to rethink whether or not to support these organization in the future or to reallocate some of those funds to the organizations who do seem to appreciate this support. 

The lessons learned here?

  1. Thank the donor immediately after the gift. Absolutely and every time. The law requires that you send a tax receipt but don’t stop there.

  2. Acknowledge when a donor goes above and beyond. Dill’s gift to the first organization helped them out of a pickle, but the organization never seemed to acknowledge or appreciate the significance of Dill’s gift. A phone call or some acknowledgement that this was not a run-of-the-mill gift would have gone a long way with Dill. 

  3. Follow-up regularly with the donor to tell him or her how the gift made a difference for your clients. Previous blogs have provided a bunch of ideas on ways to demonstrate this impact to your donors.

  4. Once in a while, pick up the phone even if just to thank the donor again or leave a voice message. They will appreciate the personal touch. In a society filled with social media and email, the personal touch has become lost, and many will appreciate it, especially your older donors.

  5. Never assume next year’s gift. All of the organization Dill mentioned assumed that because they received a gift last year, they would receive one again this year. They never asked. Ask – and let the donor know what a difference their gift will make for your clients this year as well.

  6. Send a pledge reminder, not an invoice. Invoices bill for goods and services that someone purchases. The customer cannot ignore an invoice without risking peril to his or her credit. Invoices come after a business transaction. Pledge reminders remind a donor of a previous, voluntary commitment they made to support your organization. They have no legal impact and serve as a step in a relationship. Build a relationship; don’t solidify a transaction.

Is your organization one of the ones Dill referenced in his stories? Will you likely receive support from Dill next year? If not, what can you do now to begin to mend your relationship with Dill