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Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Dissecting The Thank You Process Of One Organization

March 28th, 2014 by Karen Climer

When I was in elementary school, I went to summer camp at the Orlando Science Center every year.   One year, I dissected a frog, a pig, and a shark.  I thought that was cool.  I still like to dissect things, but not carcasses.  Now it is more along the lines of analyzing an organization’s fundraising strategy.  So put on your lab coat and join me as we look inside at the guts of the thank you mailings from Food For The Poor…

Thank you mailing included a letter, remit form, and remit envelope

Thank you mailing included a letter, remit form, and remit envelope

On March 11, I mailed a donation to Food For The Poor.  On March 14, the check cleared the bank.  On March 24, I received two pieces of mail from Food for the Poor.  The first envelope contained my tax receipt.  The letter was excellent – a perfect thank you letter.  It gave me most of the credit for helping the poor.  It’s a faith-based organization, so God received some of the credit, but I received more credit than He did!  Who knew that I was that important?

The letter also included a remittance form and envelope to make an additional gift.  The ask amounts where based on my donation amount. 

The second mailing was a welcome packet because it was my first gift to Food For The Poor.  The welcome packet included a letter, remit form, remit envelope, and a thank you brochure.  This letter said thank you, but it read more like a solicitation letter than an appreciation of my gift.  This remit form asked me to make another gift (ask amounts based on my previous gift) or to sign up to donate monthly.

Welcome packet include a letter, remit form, remit envelope, and thank you brochure.

Welcome packet included a letter, remit form, remit envelope, and thank you brochure.

I received both of these pieces on the same day.  The welcome packet was postdated on March 20, the tax receipt on March 21.

Let’s dissect this a little bit:

First, Food for the Poor sent the thank you note out pretty quickly.  I tell clients to get their thank you notes out within 24 hours.  I think that is possible in any organization if it is a priority.

It took Food For The Poor five business days to get this in the mail.  I’ve seen small organizations that receive two donations per week and can’t get their thank you letters out in five days.  Considering the volume that Food for the Poor receives (10th largest nonprofit in America), I’m giving them a pass on this.  It wasn’t 24 hours, but it is quicker than I was expecting.

Second, I received two pieces in one day.  I’m not sure if this was intentional or not.  It seems wasteful to receive two pieces in one day.  If I had received one piece on Monday and another piece on Thursday, it would have seemed thoughtful, not wasteful.  Additionally, it would have been two touch points.  By receiving them on the same day, it was only one touch point.  I’d say they should make a stronger attempt to have the tax receipt arrive first.  Then have the welcome packet arrive the following week.

Third, both pieces included a remit form and envelope.  The tone of the tax receipt was appreciation.  The tone of the welcome packet was solicitation.  I’ve talked to fundraisers who think that including an ask in a thank you is the tackiest thing you could possibly do.  I’ve talked to other fundraisers who insist that you send a remit envelope with every piece of mail regardless of the purpose of the mailing.  Most fundraisers I know fall somewhere in the middle.

My personal opinion is that a thank you should be a thank you.  However, it doesn’t matter what I think.  It matters what’s effective.  Let’s look at some research … I don’t know the numbers for Food For The Poor specifically, but I do know that many organizations raise about 10% of their total fundraising revenue from receipt gifts.  Last year, Food For The Poor raised $900 million, so 10% of that is not peanuts.

This was my first gift.  The organization really needs me to give two gifts.  If I don’t give a second gift within twelve months of the first gift, the chances of me ever giving again are pretty slim.  According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, only 22.9% of first-time donors ever give again.  Once the donor gives a second time, 60.8% will give again.  So that second gift is paramount.  Including a remit envelope in the thank you is one way to get a second gift.  If the organization doesn’t ask in the thank you letter, they need to ask BEFORE the donor’s three-month anniversary.  (Recency is one of the best indicators of who will give.)

Even considering that 10% of some organizations’ budgets come from the receipt ask and considering the importance of the second gift, I still have a hard time including an ask, even a subtle one, in the initial thank you letter.  I would recommend sending the thank you letter without the remittance form or envelope.  One month later, ask for an additional gift or to join the monthly giving club.  My gut feeling (which is not the best way to develop a strategy) is that separating the thank you and the ask will result in a more loyal, long-term donor.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any research to prove or disprove this theory.  The only way to know for sure is to test it with your specific organization.

What do you think?  How does your organization handle it?  Please leave your comments below.

Posted in Acknowledgment, Direct Mail

5 Responses

  1. Lynn

    Good insights, Karen. We are all vocally passionate about the need for a second gift to secure those 60.8% of the people. Sometimes that passion leads us to ask a bit too soon or ask when we really need to be saying thank you.

    I worked for an organization that sent a hand written thank you note immediately after a donation was received and then waited a year before the next solicitation. The hand written note was genius, but the year wait was really long. I’m sure there is a middle ground. Maybe even the idea you gave of one month later?

  2. Karen Climer

    Thank you for your reply, Lynn. It is far too common that organizations wait a full year before asking again. I have found that most local nonprofits are so afraid of asking too often that they don’t ask enough. You are right, though. It’s about finding that happy balance.

  3. Lisa

    I have been giving annually to an organization for more than 12 years now. It’s not much money…$50. They have never asked me to give more, give to a different appeal, or to volunteer. The only thing I receive is a thank-you that is generated seconds after I make my online gift. They are definitely leaving money on the table. I don’t have a lot to give, but, if asked, I most likely would double my gift. Apparently, they haven’t done their research!!

  4. Karen Climer

    Unfortunately, your experience is more common than it should be. Your gift probably doesn’t meet the dollar threshold that they consider worth treating respectfully. (If your organization does what Lisa is referring to, please revisit your plan immediately!)

    The longer someone is at the same level, the more difficult it is to upgrade them. You (the donor) begin to see yourself as a $50 donor. When they ask you to upgrade to $100, you think, “No thanks, I’m a $50 donor.” (Their lackluster stewardship and communication doesn’t help.)

    If they asked you for an upgrade at the beginning, you would think, “Well sure, I didn’t realize you needed more.”

    As always, thanks for reading and contributing.

  5. Richard

    I’ve given to FFTP for a few years now and while I do not mind, I do get a little fed up with what seems to be mailing every 2 weeks. Coincidentally, usually around pay day. I have my own debts but do try to help. Less solicitation would be much appreciated.

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