Fundraising’s neglected “Thank You” opportunity

Every good fundraising book, workshop and blog will tell you how important it is to thank your donors.  Quickly.  And often.

Yet almost every organization neglects one compelling point of “Thank You” … at the beginning of each appeal to donors.

Fundraising appeals are too often just like acquisition communications.  They open with …

“Problem.  Problem.  Won’t you help us solve this problem?”  Or …

“We did a great thing.  We did another great thing.  Please help us do the next great thing.”

Both of these wholly ignore my relationship with the organization and its mission.  How about ..

“You helped us solve this problem.  Thanks!  Won’t you please help us solve the next?”  Or …

“You helped us do this great thing.  Thanks!  Won’t you please help us do this next great thing?”

A reasonably current donor is usually treated like a prospect.   If I’m acknowledged, it’s later in the letter.  Great, if I read that far.  Why not affirm my relationship and build on it from the get-go.

Common reasons this doesn’t happen:

1)  You’re using the same letter for donors and prospects.  In which case, donors are never acknowledged.   If so, how about a significant segmentation of donors vs. prospects.   You really have different messaging if you’re talking to an ongoing supporter vs someone who’s like-minded (based on the list) but not given to YOU.  In one, you’re reinforcing, in the other you really need to distinguish your handling of the mission against all the other wildlife/disease/whatever other list sources you may be using.

2)  You’re mailing to everyone who’s contributed within the last two to ten years.  And you’re uncomfortable talking to long-expired donors in such a chummy way.   If so, get over it.   Thanking people who have given is an “assumptive sell” … affirming their self-perception as supporters no matter how long ago they may have actually donated.

What’s the risk?   “These people are STILL grateful! … What’s wrong with them?”   Not too bad.  Especially considering the upside of treating donors as donors and building on an existing relationship.

3)  You want to hook people with a story in the letter opening.   Fair enough.   But the relationship is a good hook and doesn’t use up all that much space in the opening.   You also have other “first read” options in a letter:  an overline/Johnson Box, a block-indented paragraph early in the letter, the start of the P.S.   Consider.

4)  You don’t want people to mistake this letter for an acknowledgement.   Good thought, but this letter need not start of with the words “Thank You” to quickly work in that sentiment.

Sure, keep acknowledgements distinct from appeals.   Continue/start to message donors differently than prospects.  But look for ways to take advantage of this most neglected opportunity to leverage your relationship with donors.

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