EDITORIAL: Did you thank your donors?

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by Steven Weisz for The Dance Journal

In the operations of PhiladelphiaDANCE.org, I have, as a matter of policy, donated various amounts of money to dance companies and arts organizations in the region over the years.  The donations have varied from small donations to rather substantial amounts.

However, after recent encounters, in which my pledge or actual donations were never acknowledged, I decided to investigate organizational policies with regards to donor recognition. It would seem that thanking donors for their gift would be a simple matter of good business practice.

In the current economy, non-profits and dance companies are faced with greater competition for resources than ever before.  An organization cannot afford to gamble with a donor’s generosity or simply assume that their support will continue if not cultivated.  In addition, the scarcity of resources has also caused a shift, whereby donors now expect greater accountability as to how their money is being used. This accountability is of a much more personal nature and goes beyond the annual non-profit company audit.

Most surprising was the current data and research in the non-profit sector which showed that 70% of non-profits did not send a follow up thank you within a one month period of time and 37% did not send a thank you email or any follow up at all for a received donation.

As it turns out the number one reason donors stop supporting a non-profit is the way they are treated by that non-profit.  Given how gratitude is expressed is what bonds a donor to a cause, this does not make any sense. Based on current analysis, it appears that non-profits are terrible at thanking donors and if you are one of the organizations that actually does, then you are a rare exception.

Most non-profits report that the primary issue behind their short coming is time constraints. But this also begs the question as to how much time is actually required to cultivate a new donor versus engaging and maintaining an existing one. As it turns out, it takes almost four times the amount of effort and expense to cultivate new donors over retaining existing ones. So if time is so precious why not use it to thank those who had already taken the next step in actually giving money?

The Network for Good suggests that a proper thank you should have four basic components – it needs to be personal, tangible, emotional and most of all about the donor and NOT you! I would also add that it needs to BE TIMELY!

It is amazing how many times donors I have spoken and even myself had to call and follow up to see if the donation was received.  In one case, it was almost three months before a  four figure check was cashed, begging the question of whether the money was really so desperately needed.  As it turns out psychologists examining prosocial behavior have shown a direct correlation between the “timeliness of the thank you” and the amount of good will and “positivity” felt by the donor.  A thank you taking over a week was shown to be associated with a 60%  decrease of “good will” felt by the donor.

A good thank you, should give your donors credit. It should make them feel proud of being a part of something bigger, and in doing so, solidify their bond with your organization. It will ultimately leave them wanting to do more, whether this is making additional donations, attending a performance or spreading the word about your organization.

The personal touch goes a long way in creating more permanent bonds. While email is expedient, the personal note or phone call has been shown to be far more meaningful to donors.  Avoid form letters or standardized responses as with Kickstarter type campaigns.  Do not make your thank you letter about a tax write off, which while a benefit to the donor, usually has very little impact on why they donated in the first place.  A letter for tax purposes should always be separate from your thank you letter.

Make your correspondence tangible by connecting what you asked for with what was given by the donor. Let them know how their gift is making a difference to your organization. Even more so, let them know how the money is being used. This is critical! In a recent campaign, by a Philadelphia organization, the group spoke of the money as being used to sustain their “living expenses” so they “could create their art”.  Donors are not interested in paying living expenses; they are interesting in funding projects which serve the community! They want to know specifically how their money is being used.

The offer of a donation provides an opportunity for organizations to establish a deeper connection with the donor, learning what is of greatest interest to them and then recognizing their contribution in a more meaningful way.  Consider thanking your donors by offering them the opportunity to experience the initiative they fund by inviting them to view a rehearsal, visit back stage or even meet the dancers after a performance.

The simple act of saying “thank you” can not only contribute to financial stability; it can create community.  It helps sustain our vitality and creativity and allows us to connect in ways that are tangible, emotional and more meaningful.

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1 Comment

  1. In times of serious financial challenges, fundraising has become a lifeline for many important initiatives and community programs administered by not-for-profit organizations. Donors, therefore, are important stakeholders in ensuring the sustainibility of these initiatives. While they do their part to pay the bills and keep programs afloat, fundraising professionals and not-for-profit board members should make it a priority to keep the connection to their donors alive and well. This starts with a sincere, personal and timely thank you. It is astonishing to find out that a staggering percentage of fundraising organizations would forget or choose to forgo a simple gesture that can be instrumental in retaining donors’ loyalty and the very livelihood of programs and organizations. Thank you Steve for an insightful piece.

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