The Power of Thank You in Fundraising and in Life

Posted by David G Phillips on Aug 9, 2018 9:14:20 AM

"I was in line at the grocery store the other day. The cashier was really rude to people. When it was my turn, I handed her my money, she grabbed it, gave me my change, and that was it. I couldn't help myself. I asked, 'Would it kill you to at least say thank you?' She looked up and snapped, 'It's printed on your receipt.'" 
Jay Leno

Don't assume that people know you appreciate them or their help. Tell them. You know yourself how much a thank you means -- and how good it makes you feel when someone says it. Take the time to thank people no matter how busy you are. It's not only good for the soul, it's also the best public relations booster there is.

Be sure the words "thank you" are in your voice mail greeting. Nothing is more irritating than negotiating the endless hurdles of phone system hell -- especially when you don't even get a thank you for going to the trouble. Thank your listeners for calling, thank them for being willing to leave a message, or thank them for their patience. It doesn't matter exactly what you thank them for, just that you thank them for making the effort to reach you.

Send thank you notes and, whenever appropriate, hand write them. Send them to donors, to volunteers, to colleagues, and to anyone else who does you a good turn. In this day of form letters and printed receipts, handwritten thank you notes are cherished goodwill builders. And the networks of gratitude they build can boost careers as well. Management guru Peter F. Drucker, honorary chairman of the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management, attributes much of his success in life to his early habit of writing 10 to 12 thank you notes a day.

Always thank donors. When it comes to fundraising, saying thank you is essential. It's hard to imagine it not being a priority for some nonprofits, especially since people are giving money that they aren't required to give.  But according to Penelope Burk, author of "Thanks! A Guide to Donor-Centred Fundraising", the number one donor recognition problem “is not acknowledging gifts, period.”

When thanking donors, promptness counts. It can even make a difference in how much they'll contribute in the future. In a test that Burk conducted in conjunction with the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Paraplegic Association, she found that new contributors who were called and thanked within 24 hours of receipt of their gift gave more in subsequent appeals than did those who were not thanked promptly. How prompt is prompt? Donors who were called more than 48 hours after their gifts were received thought they were being solicited for another donation.

Make your donor thank you letters warm and personal. To the recipient, a canned, overly formal thank you can sometimes feel worse than not receiving one at all. But unless you're one of the lucky ones who has a natural talent for it, writing creative, meaningful thank you letters can be a challenge. Burk says you can force yourself to be more creative by leaving the thank you for the end. She suggests, "You might say, I just got your donation, I can't tell you how important it is, we're putting it into this program, this is what it's going to do, here is the time line, and you can expect to hear from us again next October when we're going to tell you what the money has accomplished. And then say thank you."

Consider running a Thank-a-thon. In addition to thanking donors at the time of their actual gift, Terry Axelrod, author of Raising More Money®: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Lifelong Donors, suggests taking thank you one step further by holding a "holiday thank-a-thon". Making holiday calls to those who gave to your organization during the year, Axelrod says, conveys the message that "We noticed you gave. It mattered. We appreciate you."

A sincere thank you is one of the mightiest marketing and fundraising tools there is. Use its power often and well.


A freelance writer for 30 years, Katherine Khalife has co-authored five books of local history, written numerous articles for print and for the Web, and published a small regional magazine.


Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is one of the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to info@cdsfunds.com.

Topics: building relationships, Capital Campaigns, Communications and Networking, donation thank you, donor stewardship, Professional Skill Building

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