HOW TO: Thank Online Donors

Photo by Clyde Bentley
09.06.2011By

Photo by Clyde Bentley

What do 10 donations, 3 thank yous and 7 failures to communicate have in common? They are all a part of Kivi Leroux Miller’s annual “What I Got When I Gave” experiment. This reminds us about the weight (and cost) a simple thank you can carry.

What would happen if we polled your online donors?

Would they say they received a thank you? Or even a confirmation of their donation? Would they say it encouraged them to give again? A simple thank you can help maximize your online fundraising efforts. Here are five steps you can take to thank online donors the second after they’ve donated:

1. Confirm Receipt of Donation

This might seem obvious, but sometimes it’s the simple details that get lost in translation. Whichever donation platform you’re using, make sure the system is set-up to confirm receipt of the donation to the donor–immediately. Some third party systems already have this functionality built in–but you can also take it an extra step and customize and personalize the process for your cause.

Include the name of the organization the donation benefits as well as the organization’s contact information and tax ID number. Have the name of the donor on the receipt as well as the amount of the donation. Some organizations make the confirmation receipt the thank you letter as well. You can do this and include a thank you in your receipt. But killing two birds in one stone isn’t always the best scenario when building a relationship with online donors.

2. Acknowledge the Donor

Unless a donation is given anonymously, acknowledge that person’s donation. You may be familiar with doing this in your annual report or monthly newsletter but with social media, there are more ways you can recognize your online donors:

  • –Write a blog post thanking them for their donations
  • –Create a Twitter list of your online donors
  • –Post a comment recognizing their donation, “like” their activity on your social networks and RT their words of support and encouragement
  • –Create a video thanking them publicly

3. Say Thank You!

Katya Andresen from Network for Good says to thank donors three times as much as you make the ask. When fundraising online, this will mean multiple thank yous. You’ll have people who donated in response to an email, a tweet, or a Facebook post. Be sure to send thank yous through all your different communication channels. (Note: This includes picking up the phone every once and a while just to say thank you.)

The sooner you say thank you, the better. Aim for 48 hours or less. When you say thank you, also communicate why you are thankful and what the funds will be used for. Remind the person of the mission and personalize the message as much as possible. Going the extra effort in cultivating one relationship will be worth more in the long run than leaving donors in the dark.

4. Follow Through

Don’t just say what the money donated goes to, but show your online donors how it’s being used and the impact it’s making. In Cygnus Applied Research’s Donor Survey 2011, they found that 53% of online donors identified “achieving and communicating measurable results” as prominent in their decision making to donate again.

Include your online donors in the process. Post updates of the progress you’re making across your communication channels and invite donors to follow you there. Communicate clear goals and objectives from the get go, and follow-up on the progress being made to meet those goals. This helps encourage your online donors to give an encore donation.

5. Provide Opportunities to Get Involved

When someone donates to your cause, they are interested in what you’re doing. Add the online donor to your email distribution list to keep them updated on how the cause progresses. Continue to let them know of your needs, both monetary and non. Find ways people can get involved beyond donating. Perhaps it’s posting a flyer about a fundraising event at their job, volunteering spare time, or writing a letter of encouragement. People who donate are vested in seeing you and the organization succeed. Make it a community effort by involving them in the process. (And thank them for everything they do!)

BONUS: Alaska has the second highest amount of online donors. If online giving is popular in Alaska, just think what’s possible in your neck of the woods! Get more data and see why online giving helps inspire generosity.

How else can we thank online donors and cultivate a strong relationship with them?

  • This is a good list. The one thing I would add is to report outcomes back to your donors. Let them know how their contribution helped as specifically as possible. I’m also a fan of helping your donors understand that operating overhead is important and should be funded along with programming. Without operating overhead the organization’s good works don’t take place. The thanking process seems to be a good place to educate donors about how community benefit organizations really work. 

    • I second that, David. I might be going off on a tangent here, but can nonprofits allocate some overhead to programs as well? That way their financial reports can give a clearer picture of how their expenses went to support a program. It’s not shady, but like you said, it could help show donors the necessity of overhead expenses.

      • That’s a great question, Ifdy. I wish they would do so. Instead there is a lot of time and effort devoted to trying to make it appear as though overhead is less than 10% of revenue because that number has become the accepted limit in the minds of donors and ratings agencies. I think it’s ridiculous and does the entire sector a grave disservice.

  • This is a good list. The one thing I would add is to report outcomes back to your donors. Let them know how their contribution helped as specifically as possible. I’m also a fan of helping your donors understand that operating overhead is important and should be funded along with programming. Without operating overhead the organization’s good works don’t take place. The thanking process seems to be a good place to educate donors about how community benefit organizations really work.u00a0

    • I second that, David. I might be going off on a tangent here, but can nonprofits allocate some overhead to programs as well? That way their financial reports can give a clearer picture of how their expenses went to support a program. It’s not shady, but like you said, it could help show donors the necessity of overhead expenses.

      • That’s a great question, Ifdy. I wish they would do so. Instead there is a lot of time and effort devoted to trying to make it appear as though overhead is less than 10% of revenue because that number has become the accepted limit in the minds of donors and ratings agencies. I think it’s ridiculous and does the entire sector a grave disservice.

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  • Aeron Farmer

    One thought:  If you suggest people donate as a way to honor or memorialize a loved one, make sure your acknowledgement and receipt include a reference to the person the donor lists.  Such donors are often in an emotionally vulnerable state.  Accepting their donation while failing to take the moment needed to mention the specific honoree named by the donor comes across as callous, insensitive, and unappreciative. It can break a donor relationship in a heartbeat…and it should.

  • Aeron Farmer

    One thought:u00a0 If you suggest people donate as a way to honor or memorialize a loved one, make sure your acknowledgement and receipt include a reference to the person the donor lists.u00a0 Such donors are often in an emotionally vulnerable state.u00a0 Accepting their donation while failing to take the moment needed to mention the specific honoree named by the donor comes across as callous, insensitive, and unappreciative. It can break a donor relationship in a heartbeat…and it should.

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  • Cellogirl

    It’s amazing how often not for profits remember to thank the donor but fail to notify the honoree or family of the person recognized with a memorial gift….online or offline.

    • Unfortunately, it’s an oversight that happens. And it’s a missed opportunity to show the family/loved ones the amount of support they’ve been receiving.

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