The importance of thanking in major donor fundraising

One thank you to that major donor is great. But surely we shouldn’t be too over the top about thanking should we?

Read on for insight that time spent thanking your existing donors is as important as time spent finding “new major donors”. And it can raise more!

I remember one card that arrived from a friend in lockdown. In it was a lovely message thanking me for the vegetable growing book I sent her for a birthday present – it was a new hobby for her during COVID.

Two weeks before we’d seen each other over Zoom; I joined a group of friends and family honking Happy Birthday to her over the internet, vaguely in sync. At the end of the singing she told me how excited she’d been to open her book that morning, and said thank you to me with a huge smile.

A month or so later she sent me a WhatsApp message with a photo of her tomatoes all settled in their new pots – again thanking me for the book.

That’s three thank yous in 6 weeks. Too much? It didn’t feel like that at all. It felt really wonderful.

Most of us know that thanking our donors is important, but there’s a difference between sending a thank you for a gift and having a thank you programme. As part of the Certificate in Philanthropic Psychology from the Institute of Sustainable Philanthropy I reviewed research from Adrian Sergeant and Jen Shang’s report on thanking donors.

Thanking people four or more times per year increases giving – people give more and give for longer.

Those organisations who are best at thanking retain more of their supporters. That probably makes complete sense to you. Yet how many of us focus our efforts on thoughtful, surprising thank yous? That’s not a “thank you and can you please give again.” Or “thank you and can you please do x, y or z.” Just a thoughtful, personal thank you.

Building true connectedness for any supporter, including major donors, takes time. We need consistency and we need ‘out of the blue, expectation exceeding thank yous’. With our high-net-worth supporters we can often take an even more personal approach through what we know of them and their lives, to really build how connected they feel, to make them feel valued and inspired.

And the great news is, it’s not too late to start. If a major donor got a brief letter for a gift they made, why not send them a handwritten note today? Leave them a voice note, or email them a short video thanking them and including a short story, demonstrating why their gift’s made such a difference.

My friend made me feel amazing for giving, she made me feel loved. What can you do today to make a donor feel that?

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Adrian Sergeant and Jen Shang’s full report can be accessed here.

This was posted on 7 July 2023.


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