Shouldn’t You Thank as Well as You Ask?

Over the month of December,  my parents received scores of appeals from a variety of organizations, national and local, big and small, asking them for their support.  Some were from organizations that they had supported in the past, and some were from groups they had never had contact with before.  Some came with free address labels with misspelled names or incorrect information, others offered “free” gifts in return for their support.  I helped go through these many appeals, critiquing many, and then watched as my mother wrote out a couple dozen checks over those weeks.  Since that time, my parents have received less than a handful of acknowledgements, and only one of those was personalized by addressing them by name.  One I read today actually referred to them as “Dear Member.”  As a fundraising professional, I have to admit that I am a bit disgusted.

As a fundraising professional, I know that we work hard when writing our appeals for support.  We spend hours and hours, days and days, even weeks crafting the perfect appeal letter.  We write, edit, rewrite and re-edit until we think it is perfect.  We agonize over what paper to use and which font will bring us best the results.  The appeals get mailed and hopefully they do what they are intended to do and money comes in over the next few weeks.

But, how many of us put that same effort into the thank you letters that SHOULD be going out as the gifts roll in?  Many organizations fail to send out simple acknowledgements, let alone thank you letters.  Many of those that do send thank you letters cannot even take the time to address an individual or couple by name in the salutation.  “Dear member?”  How impersonal can a letter be?

Most donors, myself included, cannot remember much about that appeal letter you sent us, but we do remember the well crafted and personal thank you letters we receive telling us how important our support of the organization is.  We remember the organizations that continue to thank us over the following months every time they correspond with us, whether by newsletter or email telling us how our donation is used, or on an invitation to an event. We feel a real kinship with the organization when a Board member calls out of the blue just to thank us for our support.  Those organizations are the ones we feel a partnership with, and those are the ones we will continue to support year after year after year.

As fundraisers, we are professional “askers”, but if we are truly donor-centered and concerned with making lifelong partnerships with our supporters, we should be professional “thankers”.

There is an old fundraising adage I am fond of using.  “You can ask too often, but you can never thank enough.”  I wish more people in the fundraising field kept that in mind.


About greatergoodfundraising

Richard Freedlund has been active in the nonprofit sector in a number of ways, both professionally and as a volunteer. He is the founder of Greater Good Fundraising, a business that helps schools and organizations raise money for their programs while accomplishing something positive for the community. After living in Oregon for 27 years, he has returned to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois and hopes to make his mark on the nonprofit sector there. He is the father of a talented jazz musician and the son of philanthropic parents that continue to support multiple causes. To contact Richard for consulting, fundraising, or speaking opportunities, email or reach him on @ggfundraise
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11 Responses to Shouldn’t You Thank as Well as You Ask?

  1. Richard, I’m in complete agreement with you. Thank you for choosing to write about the thank-you process. If an organization isn’t getting the thanking process right, you can can sure bet they’re also not showing gratitude or doing an effective job cultivating. No wonder donor attrition rates are so high (over 50 percent among first-time donors)!

    • Thank you for commenting, Michael. Thanking and showing true appreciation are the keys to making the donor relationship a lasting relationship. It amazes me that so many organizations and fundraisers drop the ball once the gift has come in. Yes, thanking donors takes time, but it is time well spent.

  2. Michael McLaughlin says:

    I love it when I see or hear another fundraiser say something like, “…single gifts of less than $250 don’t require a receipt.”

    I use the word “love” because it means that their donor will surely be disappointed soon, and start looking for another charity to support…which might lead them to mine.

    BTW, the quote above was from a comment someone posted just 21 days ago in LinkedIn’s Raiser’s Edge User Group.

    Please let your mother know that we send out an acknowledgement letter after every gift, regardless of the amount, and that we would love her support.

    • Michael,
      Thank you for your comments. I agree with you that every donor should be thanked and every gift should be appreciated. If you haven’t read it, there is a post in my archives, “How are You Using Generous?” that I think you will really appreciate. And I will pass the information along to my mom. LOL

  3. This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I recently had a chat with a donor and she mentioned how her corporation has contributed to many charities but not one thanked them after the event. Every fundraiser should read this!

  4. Michael Auton says:

    This post is really interesting and resonates so much with what can be wrong with our sector. I remember as a child been told by my mother to thank all the cards and gifts I received at Christmas or birthdays and how important this was to family and friends. It is just polite!! Donors should be treated with the same respect and in my mind, all gifts should be thanked regardless of how big or small, unless they have specifically asked not to be acknowledged. There are many instances of charities receiving signficant legacies from donors who gave small gifts during their lives. By not thanking smaller gifts, the relationship between donor and charity will always be one way which does nothing to promote good stewardship. I was amazed to hear recently that a charity I was doing some volunteer work for did not thank any gifts less than £100!!! I couldnt beleive it.

    • Michael,
      Thank you for reading my post and for your comments. I was raised the same way that you were, and I recall that sometimes my mother had to remind me to thank others for gifts, even when they were things like socks and underwear. Sadly, too many organizations are like the one you mention and have a cut off point for thanking donors for their generosity. I also agree that all gifts, regardless of size, should be appreciated because they are given, and there is always that possibility that someday, that person will want to remember you and be remembered when the time comes.

  5. Cheryl says:

    Thank you!

  6. Seon says:

    That is so nice

  7. There are also people who not only say thank you but like to take the time to dress it up. I am one of those people but my donors don’t remember that. I don’t receive the big bucks that they pass on to the big guys who receive and send out the impersonal notes. One dollar, five, and ten sometimes is what they send to me but they write out checks to their favorite and obviously everyone else’s for one hundred, five and a thousand always. But I budget wisely and I am still in existence while many receiving big bucks died. My nonprofit is thankful to be alive.

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