The One Secret to Increasing Your Individual Giving Exponentially!

The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.

William James

Recently the following post to one of the Charity Channel forums caught my eye:

We just completed a market survey and one of the things that came out of 
this is that donors who cannot give at leadership levels do not feel their 
gifts have any impact on the institution. We are starting to have some 
discussion on what we might do for those who give $25 to $1000. Currently 
under $500, the areas do not send acknowledgement letters so all this donor 
would receive is a receipt. We’ve talked about recognizing loyalty donors 
who have given faithfully year after year regardless of the annual amount. 
Also discussed recognizing cumulative gifts. Is anyone out there doing 
something in particular to recognize the lower level donors?

My jaw dropped.


Am I reading this correctly? This institution only deigns to thank donors who have given in excess of $500?

Granted, my work has been primarily with smaller nonprofit organizations – those with budgets under $2 to $3 million (often under $1 million!) – where an individual check in the amount of $250 was considered a larger donation.

Still, I confess to being rather appalled when I come across organizations with policies such as those noted above.

And recently, when working with a large, well-known Philadelphia consulting firm, I was shocked when one of their associates dismissed my concerns about stewardship slipping through the cracks with the remark that, in her experience, “donors are lucky if they get a postcard.”

When I send a check to an organization, be it a $15 check or a $1500 check, I expect to receive a thank you.

If I do not, well, as you can imagine, I won’t be sending any more money.

Has it ever occurred to the Charity Channel poster – or the powers that be of her institution – that “loyalty” donors often can and do constitute major givers?

After all, a donor who gives, in this institution’s estimation, a “mere” $250 every year, has given $2,500 after ten years? A donor who gives $1,000 every year for ten years, has given $10,000.

Good marketers know that it makes better sense to sell to existing customers than to create new customers.

Penelope Burk has reams of research about the critical importance of donor appreciation.

Even the Association of Fundraising Professionals notes, in their Donor Bill of Rights, that donors have the right “to receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition.”

So why would any organization not have a good donor acknowledgment plan in place?

Wouldn’t you think that if the institution noted above has the technology to generate a receipt, they have the technology to generate a simple thank you?

In every last development position that I have held, I have established strong donor acknowledgement programs. These procedures included welcome packages, personalized thank you letters (I do not believe in a thank you postcard – don’t even go there), thank you emails, and phone calls of appreciation.

I also like to put together a fairly random list every week of donors, both large and small, to phone and spend one to two hours a week talking with donors about the impact their gift will have.  Who else can make thank you phone calls?  Your CEO?  Your board members?

Any effective individual giving program begins and ends with a prompt, gracious thank you.

Don’t cite budgetary reasons as your excuse for not thanking a donor.

There is no excuse.

Like this post?  Hate it?  Let me know!  And, please be kind, retweet!

16 Responses to “The One Secret to Increasing Your Individual Giving Exponentially!”

  1. Andi says:

    Recently, my family made a $25 donation to a local children’s theatre, and we received a handwritten thank-you card from a board member! We didn’t expect any kind of thank-you for a small donation, but we were thrilled to have gotten it. We talked about the theatre for days – so it’s great PR tactic to write a thank-you as well!

  2. Great article! As a board member of a nonprofit we always thank our donors…..especially in this economy!

  3. Julie M says:

    @andi That’s great!

    I think the words “thank you can go a long, long way! So, thank you for pointing this out! 🙂

  4. Our board has realized this importance and how a little “Thank You” can go a long way. Right now, we’re coming up with a full-fledged plan on thanking our donors multiple times throughout the year along with special events.

  5. […] This post was Twitted by PamelaGrow […]

  6. Sandy Rees says:

    I believe that you ought to thank EVERY donor for EVERY gift, no matter the size. Acknowledging a gift is an important part of solicitation. It lets the donor know you received and appreciated their donation. It builds trust, nurtures relationship, and sets up the next gift. Organizations who choose not to send Thank You letters are just being lazy.

    Sandy Rees
    Fundraising Coach

  7. I thank donors who give as little as $1 – and it’s always a handwritten thank you, not some form letter which is the same as everyone else gets!

    From our supporters, that $1 donation may have meant choosing between donating and buying milk, and we appreciate every supporter.

    I find it hard to believe that any organization would choose not to thank donors they consider “insignificant”. That’s just setting themselves up for no repeat donations from that person, as well as just bad PR.

  8. Steve Smith says:

    Thanks for bringing this post back. The concept of thanking donors is timeless. Good to remind your audience (us!) of its importance. A question. Do you recommend nonprofits you work with send receipt separate from thank-you? I’ve advised doing both in same envelope, particularly in direct respose acknowledgement. Tell me if my head’s on straight about this.

  9. Pamela Grow says:

    Great question Steve! I always actually put the language in a tiny font at the bottom of the letter (recommended by P. Burk). I am pretty sure that that is what Lisa Sargent recommended as well (it’s a bit of a “joy sucker” so we put it as an afterthought!)

  10. Charles says:

    What about an automated email receipt/thank you? That is good enough for me, and actually as a donor I am disappointed when I receive paper in the mail. I consider it a waste of paper, money, and time. I would much rather the nonprofit use as much as possible to their actual cause rather than nurturing me as a donor. I do not need to be nurtured.

  11. Pamela Grow says:

    I believe you’re in the minority on this one. Penelope Burk’s Cygnus Applied Research notes that up to five out of every ten donors stop giving – or give less – because they feel, in part, that their giving isn’t appreciated.

    Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.
    Marcus Tullius Cicero

    Considering the current state of donor attrition (and, in the business world, customer satisfaction), we would all do well to remember that. If the organization’s goal is long-term financial sustainability, the primary focus should be on the donor.

  12. Charles says:

    Hi Pamela,
    Do you think this trend (people not giving as much b/c of not feeling appreciated enough) will continue? I am in my 20s and I think that more of my peers feel closer to what I do than the more traditional (baby boomer / older) donor.

    I have some friends who started a nonprofit and have managed to grow quite a wide donor base with very minimal investment. Their marketing is almost 100% online and through social media. They don’t mail receipts (except at year end) but just have the automated email receipt/thank you.

    Don’t get me wrong – I do think that thanking is important. But I think there are other ways to do it besides a note in the mail (that are also less expensive). And my hunch is that things will move more toward this way as my generation grow older and become donors.

  13. Pamela Grow says:

    That’s an interesting question Charles and I’d love to know more about your friend’s nonprofit. Hopefully good manners will never go out of style. Thank you for posting.

  14. Conor Byrne says:

    Great post Pamela. I wrote a post about two years ago and suggested that charities should appoint a Director of Appreciation, their job is to make sure every donor feels great about their donation. I think it should be as personal as possible (i love the idea of handwritten) but hearing from Charles is interesting, I think the method of communication can vary. (link to my post about Director of Appreciation )

  15. Mary Cahalane says:

    Pamela, I share your shock at the idea of any donor going unthanked. On top of being terribly rude, that’s just nuts!

    Charles, how about a more personalized email than the auto email you get? I think the medium is probably less important than the message. And the message that “you” (individually, distinctly) matter to us can be hugely gratifying to a supporter!

  16. Pamela Grow says:

    What a terrific post Conor! And I love the idea of a Director of Appreciation. It’s interesting that such an important function is relegated to an often-times underpaid clerical staffer. Thanks for writing.