20 Ways to Say Thank You

The other day, I was rummaging through some papers I had put aside in my filing cabinet.

Are you like I am? There are bits and pieces I read or get in the mail that are far too helpful to throw away. And not specific enough to put in a separate file.

I thought so. You have the same problem.

I used to throw material I didn’t know what to do with— into a desk drawer. Then when the drawer became bulging with so much paper it was difficult to open, let alone find something— I transferred it all to the larger drawer where you no longer keep the big files. (Don’t be so darn condescending. You’ve been doing the same thing !)

Now I have a file I call, “Good Stuff.” All the “good stuff” goes in that file instead of desk drawer. I give you permission to use my “Good Stuff” idea. You don’t even have to give me attribution.

I was going through my “Good Stuff” file the other day. I came across a very special piece by that genius, Penelope Burke. It’s all about acknowledging gifts. She says the thank you is the first step in getting the next gift. I totally agree.

Here’s her roster of 20 ideas that make your thank you superior. [The bracketed references are mine.]

1. The thank you letter is a real letter, not a pre-printed card. [And the letter is written as if it was personally meant for the donor. Not something that shouts, “This same letter is boiler plate going to hundreds of others.]
2. Personally addressed.
3. Has a personal salutation. [No “Dear Donor” or “Dear Friend.”]
4. Is personally signed. [Maybe even a handwritten note to go at the bottom of the letter.]
5. Is personally signed by someone from the highest ranks of the organization.
6. Makes specific reference to the intended use of funds.
7. Indicates approximately when the donor will receive an update on the program being funded. [Great idea !]
8. Includes the name and phone number of a staff person the donor can contact at any time or an invitation to contact the writer directly. [It’s very special if the CEO who signs the letter writes, “Call me at any time on my private line— # ________ or my cell phone # ________ if you have any questions or concerns.]
9. Does not ask for another gift.
10. Does not ask the donor to do anything (like complete an enclosed survey, for example).
11. Acknowledges the donor’s past giving, where applicable. [And the number of years of continuous giving.]
12. Contains no spelling or grammatical errors. [I give you permission to be a bit colloquial. I want the letter to read as if you are actually speaking to the donor.]
13. Has an overall “can-do,” positive tone as opposed to hand-wringing. [Urgency is okay. The ship is sinking is not.]
14. Communicates the excitement, gratitude, and inner warmth of the writer.
15. Grabs the reader’s attention in the opening sentence. [Remember, it’s not about the organization. It’s about the donor.]
16. Speaks directly to the donor.
17. Does not continue to “sell.” [I’m in favor of subtle “selling” all the time.]
18. Is concise— no more than two short paragraphs long. [I give you permission to go for a few more paragraphs— just so they are compelling and applaud the donor in dramatic terms for their gift.]
19. Is received by the donor promptly. [Should be within 48 hours. With today’s computers, there is no reason to delay. Consider sending out the receipt immediately, and then followed with a letter in a few days.]
20. In some circumstances, the letter is handwritten. [A personal note is a great idea. This can be very special if a letter is sent immediately following the gift and a note of appreciation in a month or two. “We couldn’t do it without you.”]

Obviously, if stewardship is not important to you, none of this matters. If attrition doesn’t concern you, you can disregard all this. But . . . if you want to retain your donors, if you want to increase their giving in future years— these twenty ideas are your road signs on the journey.

Jerry Panas