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Giving Donors What They Want

Lori Halley 07 September 2012 4 comments

Lately, there have been a number of interesting posts about online versus offline donor retention and stewardship. One of the first posts to get my attention was: No Wonder Retention of Online Donors is So Bad.  In this post Kivi Leroux Miller asks: “[h]ow can we possibly expect online donors to give again if we aren’t communicating with them appropriately online?...I applaud those organizations that supplemented — not replaced – their online communications with direct mail. But ...[y]ou have to thank, and report back, offer other ways to engage, and ask. Not just silence, and not just more asking.”

Kivi's post was motivated in part by Julie Damon's post: Move your Online Donors Offline? You Must Be Crazy.  Damon (Branded Out Loud) asks: “if the real issue with online donors being one-hit-wonders isn’t that the donations are made online, but that many nonprofits don’t have a great process in place to retain donors that are NOT obtained through direct mail campaigns.”

Both posts discuss the merits of building a relationship with an online donor through offline communications - e.g., should you receive a thank-you letter in the mail or simply via email, since the donor has shown their preference for online communications? And the discussion also touched on whether the preference for online versus offline communication is based on age - e.g., older donors might prefer mail instead of email.

So - is it the message, the medium or both?

But it seems to me, it’s not just about the medium it’s also about the message. Now I have to admit I’m not a fundraiser - my fundraising experience is limited to developing an awareness campaign for a national charity (no stewardship or development experience). But I would think that a donor would want and even expect, more than just an automatic email acknowledging their donation. I know as a donor, I  want to receive a thank-you letter too. In discussing this with my colleagues, we realized that the same message content can have a very different impact depending on how it is delivered - so I guess it's about the message and the medium.  To find out first hand what donors want, I decided to watch a couple of Movie Monday videos in which they interviewed and got candid feedback from actual donors.

Getting personal with your donors

The topic of saying thanks was raised in the Movie Monday video: Donors Answer 3 of Your Top Questions. One of the questions they asked the donors was: “Of all the ways you’ve been thanked, what was your favorite?”  

All three of the donors said they couldn’t emphasize enough that the thank you’s that touched them most were the simple personal call or a personal note of thanks. They also appreciated a personal follow-up with information on the impact their donation had made.

In another Movie Monday video in this series - How Donors Like to Be Asked To Give - the same donors were asked how they “like to be asked to give?”  Here are some of the key takeaways for me from their responses:  donors...

  • don’t like phone calls - unless they know the person (again it has to be personal - of course) and it often sounds like they are reading from a script.
  • want to receive information - “via email or snail mail, that they can sit down and think about”

When discussing the type of information they want to see, one of the donors replied:  “Does it tell me what they’re doing? Does it tell me why it is important and why I should care? Does it give me an easy way to get engaged?

Donors guide to recurring banner

More on the power of thank-you's

Joanne Fritz also weighed in about saying thanks in her post,  Why You Should Mail Thank You Letters to Online Donors. Joanne notes: “that emailed thank you just isn't enough. You need to also mail another, more fully developed thank you letter to really make your donor feel appreciated.”

Katya Andresen offers an Anonymous Letter That All Fundraisers Should Read, that demonstrates the importance of  making “sure your donors are really getting the prompt thanks they deserve” and ensuring that broken process behind the scenes [aren’t]  undermining your best efforts.” 

And as I was about to publish this, I saw another post - Speechless - on the Agents of Good blog. In the post, John Lepp tells us about a "Simple. Remarkable. Memorable. 35 seconds" phone call saying thanks from the president of the board of an organization he'd made a donation to that very day. Lepp says "... I listened for 35 seconds and I felt a massive smile spread across my face and instantly knew at the close of her call that I had ABSOLUTELY made an awesome decision to give earlier in the day. Unscripted, honest, heartfelt and real and 15 minutes before the start of a long weekend… her call touched my heart."

Give donors what they want - a personal, powerful thank-you

So it seems that if donors, fundraising and communications experts are all telling us that saying thank you - both online and off - in a personal way is both powerful and expected, nonprofits and charities should give donors what they want! Acknowledge their online or offline donation via email, but be sure to send along a note or thank-you letter, or make a heartfelt thank-you call - one that is both personal and prompt!

Are you sending thank-you notes or cards in the mail to your online donors?  Let us know in the comments below.

Image source: Thank You Note & Coffee, courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 07 September 2012 at 8:30 AM


  • Mary Hood said:

    Friday, 07 September 2012 at 1:47 PM
    Thanks for question and info. Yes, we mail traditional thank you letters to online donors, when we have their info.
    I also try to add a personal sentence or 2, regarding how the donation will help.
  • Lori said:

    Friday, 07 September 2012 at 2:04 PM
    Mary: Glad you liked the post and also good to hear that you are offering personalized thank-you's to donors.
  • Joanne Fritz said:

    Friday, 07 September 2012 at 3:37 PM
    Thanks so much, Lori, for mentioning my blog post about mailing thank you letters...even to online donors. I think we'll be discussing this for a long time. Maybe, someday, we'll be able to do with just email thank yous. But for now, that tangible something is still important. But to make it to my bulletin board or fridge, it needs to be very personalized, warm, and unique in some way. Also, we all give online and often promptly forget about it. A mailed thank you that arrives quickly does much to remind us of what we did and to stick that cause in our minds.
  • Lori said:

    Monday, 10 September 2012 at 4:12 PM
    Joanne: Glad to include your post. I agree, that even when we give online for convenience, the thank-you in the mail, especially the prompt and personal one, definitely reconnects us with the cause and gives us a tangible reminder of our gift.
Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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