Craft a Killer Thank You

A good thank you does more than set up your next ask.  It’s the key to retaining and upgrading your donors.  Penelope Burk found in her research that donors define oversolicitation not by an excessive number of appeals but by being asked to give again before they knew their first gift had an impact.

The sad state of our sector is that most donors aren’t properly thanked.  You could be reading this blog post right now thinking, “Oh, I thank donors.  I’ve got an email autoresponder set up.” Or “I’m fine, we send them a tax receipt letter on our letterhead.”  But if you gave to your own organization would either of those pieces of communication inspire you to make another gift? 

Let’s face it, we like in a world of instant gratification.  On top of that humans want feedback.  Who doesn’t pay attention to gossip, report cards, or performance reviews?  Donors overwhelmingly desire more information about how their specific gifts are being used in order for them to feel motivated to keep giving.  Jeff Brooks says “Donors need rich, emotional proof that their money accomplished something.”  Is the homeless man off the street?  Did the child get the vaccine? 

Here are a few tips for crafting a killer thank you’s that never go out of style from Penelope’s first book, Donor Centered Fundraising.  

1.       Don’t be predictable.

Everyone is expecting you to lead with the perfunctory “Thank you on behalf of the board, the staff and the clients we serve…”   Yawn, yawn, yawn.  Stand out!  Make them feel they are there in the room with you.  “The screams and squeals from the 9th grade class at the Ann Richard’s School for Young Women Leaders when they found out thanks to YOUR generous gift they’d be going to the nation’s capital were positively deafening.”

2.      Do not ask them to do anything, like take a survey or make another gift. 

This is a time for expressing gratitude and sharing the meaning of their gift, not for giving them homework or potentially offending them with another ask.

3.      Do not recycle the same copy indefinitely.  Make it meaningful!   

How often do you change out you thank you copy?  I recommend changing it monthly.  Be transparent and provide insight as to how the gift will be used. Show the gift in action.

4.      Make it personal

I spent 12 years running a nonprofit organization and we gained scale and efficiency with our thank you cards by using branded cardstock and preprinting a variety of close up photos of the programs in action in each.  We even engaged students and volunteers in the fun and had them write the cards.  If possible include a personal touch, such as a photo of someone the organization has helped through the mission.

5.      Make it speedy.

Ideally you are getting this out within 24-48 hours.  Don’t exceed 5 days, but late is better than never.  When you approach your big gala, end of your fiscal year or the holidays make sure you are prepared to allocate time and staff accordingly.  I recommend a weekly or daily stewardship “power hour”. 

The longer you keep your donors and cultivate them effectively, the more they will give over time!  Want more tips from the pro’s on the profit and process of retaining your donors?  Join me and my friends at Abila on Tuesday, August 9th for a free webinar, “Maximize the Post-Gift Glow”


Stay classy!





My #1 Fundraising Mistake

I sat down for lunch with a generous donor. 

Her last gift was six figures.  She’d recently received a sizable settlement.  Her net worth had mushroomed.  We made small talk.  We ordered salads.  I mustered my wits and invited her to consider a capital gift 5 times bigger than her last to create a technology center for girls. 

Her face turned as white as a sheet. 

She peppered me with questions.  Who else had come in at the level?  Who was on our campaign cabinet?  Who was the chair?  Where were the other lead gifts from?  All excellent questions.  Only I didn’t have the answers. 

I was new to capital campaigns.  I “didn’t know what I didn’t know”.  I lost that gift but it’s still my favorite mistake.  Why?  It forever changed me as a fundraiser. 

A capital campaign is the biggest fundraising challenge a nonprofit can ever assume.  What are the most dangerous myths and mistakes people make when launching a capital campaign?

Myth: Believing you have enough donors without testing it. Truth bomb:  It doesn’t have to be this way!  There’s a simple cure here and it’s called a planning (or feasibility) study.  It’s a critical first stop to test the waters with your donors.  It tells you if your vision resonates with your donors AND if they’ll buy the price tag.  Fundraising is not mind reading!  Skip this important step and you’ll flounder.

Myth:  Corporations and foundations will fund it.  Sure they will…when you’ve almost hit your goal.  The majority of your funds will come from a very small and generous group of individual donors.  Campaigns start at the top with lead gifts.  The percent of US giving by foundations and corporations has been on a steady decline for the past 20 years.  80% of all giving in the US is by individuals and nowhere is this truer than capital campaigns where half the money can come from as few as 12 gifts. 

Myth:  Believing the board’s role is minimal.  Leadership is EVERYTHING in a campaign.  No other single factor will influence the degree of campaign success more than leadership. 

Myth:  Assuming because you feel ready your donors and volunteers are ready too.   Let’s face it, as the passionate leaders of your organization you’re always 5 steps ahead of everyone else but your donors and volunteers may not feel the same sense of urgency.   

Myth: Thinking it’s about the organization.  Hint: it’s about the donor.  It’s always about the donor.  It doesn’t matter how much you love the project or the case statement you crafted to sell it.  Donors give for their reasons, not yours. 

Myth: Believing that giving is rational.  It’s not.  It’s emotional.  Giving is a profoundly emotional experience.  We may rationalize our gift later, but we give for emotional reasons.  Jeff Brooks advises:  “Give your cat cat food.  Give your donors emotional information.”      

Myth: Wealth indicates generosity.  Wealth does not predict generosity.  Also, capacity does not equal interest.  

Myth: “We’ll just ask Oprah.”  Oprah is not a fundraising strategy.  If you don’t have access to Oprah and if Oprah is not passionate about your cause you can cross this off your to do list. 

Myth: “We don’t have to get help, we can do this on our own.” or “Sure we’ve never done this before but how hard can it be?”  Launching a capital camign is one of the most ambitious leaps your organization will ever make.  You can’t afford to fail.  It demands experience and expertise.  At bare minimum read several books on capital campaign.  Secondly, I would urge you to hire outside counsel to do your planning (feasibility) study.  That is the only way to reveal if the case is compelling and who/how it will be funded.  A planning study done without hiring outside counsel is a community assessment.

Wondering if you’re campaign ready?  I’ve got your back.  Take this simple quiz to rate your readiness! (Hyperlink:

Stay classy!


5 Secrets of Great Fundraisers

This originally appeared as a guest blog post on Guidestar.

You know who they are.  The fundraiser who makes it look easy.  She nails the big gifts.  Loves her job.  He always seems to be grinning ear to ear.  At the cocktail party they’re surrounded by all the donors you want to get to know.  What’s their secret?

Truth be told, great fundraisers do things differently.   Here’s 5 things that set them apart:

  1. They know exactly where they can turn the greatest fundraising profit and are laser focused on it. Great fundraisers know that the highest ROI comes from major gift fundraising.   They keep their eyes on the prize.  They don’t let themselves get distracted.  They’d never compromise a larger ask for a short term gain, such as a table sponsorship at an event.
  2. They set ask goals for the major donors in their portfolio. If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.  A great fundraiser has thought critically to determine the  right ask goal for each donor in their portfolio and when the right time is to make the ask. This may be their single greatest strength because in doing this simple task they can push back should unrealistic goals be forced upon them.
  3. They constantly mine their file. A great fundraiser knows the value of donors already giving to their organization and they make them feel it with fantastic stewardship.
  4. They are intensely curious. They are endlessly fascinated by others.  They want to learn what your greatest passion is and what makes you tick.  This is what inspires them to ask amazing discovery questions.  Call them the last hopeless romantics but make no mistake - they’ll remember the smallest detail of your life and it’s that one detail that will one day win you over.
  5. They are profoundly grateful.    For truly great fundraisers the glass is always half full.  They can’t see it any other way.  They are grateful to work for the cause they believe in and even more grateful for the opportunity to bring people closer to it.