Say Please and Thank You at Year End!

Your mother told you to and usually that’s a good enough reason. If, however, you are in the business of raising money, saying thank you after you’ve said please, is not only a good thing, it can be a game-changer.

Many of us are inundated with the “please” requests during the month of December. They arrived in our mailbox right on time. Before, we would have ignored them as we have typically been beginning of year donors. This year though, we switched things up and made year-end gifts to our selected organizations and causes.

Also, as many of us do, we waited until the last minute…squeaking in the check mailing or online delivery, hoping that the Post Office and cyberspace delivered on time. After all, not only were those organizations counting on our gift, but also we were counting on the deduction for this year. It’s common practice for many and I suspect those who do it annually are adept at timing this giving ritual just right, with no worry about whether the check gets there in time.  For us, getting the thank you letter, properly dated and acknowledged was important validation of a 2014 contribution.

Having been on the receiving side as a development officer for several non-profits, I know the importance of these last-minute, year-end gifts. So, now that I am in the business of observing and advising others as they orchestrated this year-end dance of please and thank you, I paid close attention to when the “thank you” arrived, when it was dated and how it made me feel about supporting the organization.

A few observations:

Why timing matters: A thank you arrived for most of our gifts within a week (noting that many offices are closed the week between the holidays.) Those organizations we have not yet received anything from have cast doubt on my value to them. This puts my gift at risk for them. The more time goes by, the less I think they care.

Why the date matters: For year-end, the date matters more and it’s a detail not to be overlooked. Many of our “thank you’s” acknowledged the date and the amount in the body of the letter, indicating that they understood the importance of acknowledging receipt on or before December 31, 2014. Others dated the letter December 31. Others did neither which meant I had to go back, just to be sure, and ask them to issue another thank you. Pay attention to the detail of dates for year-end gifts. Think like a donor, understanding that the gift has tax-implications, especially at the end of the year.

Why be engaging: The impact of donor-centric “thank you” is more than industry jargon. We know it’s a unique opportunity to create an impression and to make the donors feel valuable. Write short, relevant letters with all the information they need to feel satisfied with the transaction.

More "engaging" tips:

  • Tell them what the gift did: preferably not a list of things, but one thing that mattered. It’s about what the donor’s gift helped you accomplish.
  • Always hand-write a note on a form letter, no matter the size of the gift. It lets the donor know someone who matters actually knows they made a contribution.
  • Consider sending an additional hand-written thank you note. Remember, every thank you is a touch point that builds a relationship.
  • Treat the “thank you” as the beginning of the next phase of the relationship, not the end of a transaction. It’s stewardship.
  • Thanking donors for their support is good manners.
  • Imagine that you are the donor…and thank them accordingly. And then thank your mother!

Frazier Millner Armstrong, senior consulting associate