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Going beyond a standard thank-you letter: engage your key donors

Time to say "thank you!" for all those last-minute, year-end gifts to your organization. Here are five ideas from Maria Di Mento on going beyond a standard thank-you letter to engage your key donors.

By Maria Di Mento

Development officers spend a lot of time and effort strategizing about ways to cultivate wealthy donors and pursue multimillion-dollar gifts. But once your organization gets that big gift, then what?

Thanking a big donor for a generous gift may seem like a no-brainer, but fundraising experts say it’s one of the things development officers often don’t spend enough time thinking about.

A written acknowledgement for a hefty donation is essential, say experts, but fundraisers should always do more. Here are five points to keep in mind.

1. Consider the donor’s preferences.

When you are building a relationship with a wealthy donor, try to gain a sense of how he or she might want to be acknowledged when the time comes, says Angela Joens, assistant vice chancellor of development and outreach at the University of California at Davis.

An intuitive fundraiser should be able to get a good feel for whether affluent donors want the light of public recognition shined on them or not, says Dave Krepcho, president of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

2. Get the CEO involved.

Initial recognition of a donation is crucial, so as soon as your nonprofit receives a big gift — and even before your development office sends a thank-you letter — your group’s chief executive should call the donor personally and thank him or her for the gift, Mr. Krepcho says.

3. Go to the source.

If your donor is local, then make a face-to-face visit. Look the donor in the eye and thank him or her directly for the gift, says Ms. Joens.

4. Bring in your board.

Give your board members a list of your biggest donors and assign each donor to a trustee. Then ask your trustees to call and thank the donor for his or her gift, suggests Mr. Krepcho. The callers may get a lot of voicemails, but those donors who do answer usually appreciate that a board member has taken the time to call them and acknowledge their donation, he says.

Mr. Krepcho warns that under no circumstance, however, should such calls be used to ask for another gift.

5. Keep in touch over time.

Even after a donor’s gift has been spent, says Mr. Krepcho, continue to send brief updates letting the donor know about the successes of the program the gift supported. It is a good way to let a donor know he or she is appreciated long after making a donation.

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