by: Selena Fowler, Heather Todd and Aaren Ballinger
Moments that matter...Saying thank you is just as important as the ask.
Crafting an acknowledgement letter is one of the most important tasks that Donor Relations and Advancement staff take on. The letters set the stage for deepening relationships, and encouraging continued support. Think appreciation, engagement, retention when you put pen to paper. You are looking to advance your mission while making the donor feel appreciated and involved.
While it might be tempting to use an acknowledgement to convey other messages, it’s best to write acknowledgements that clearly say what you want to express which is quite simply, “thank you for your support”. Your acknowledgement needs to be meaningful and from the heart, and it needs to be personalized for the type of relationship you have with each donor. Take your acknowledgements a step beyond just a boilerplate official tax receipt - this should be another step that’s part of a larger supporter journey.
Here are 8 tips for writing effective acknowledgements.
Don’t wait to thank your donors for their support. Ideally you should be aiming for 48-72 hours to send out acknowledgement letters and emails. Set a standard business rule for your acknowledgement process - in Blackbaud CRM™ you can utilize regularly scheduled queues to run the acknowledgement process and assign the appropriate letters overnight. Personalized thank yous for high-end or high-profile donors may take a while longer, so make sure these gifts are prioritized.
Follow the law.
Requirements, for details on current legal requirements that your organization must fulfill in providing tax receipts for donations. Some organizations combine an acknowledgment letter and a tax receipt in one mailing, while others send these separately. If you are combining the two, make sure to include a statement that no goods or services were received in exchange for the donation. You might consider placing this language in a footnote or on a separate receipt slip / page so as not to distract from the message of your acknowledgment.
Show you know your donor.
Include the correct name of the donor in the letter or email. This might seem obvious, but it is one of the first things a reader notices, and if you get it wrong you have already lost them. Use the Blackbaud CRM™ name format functionality to address your donors correctly. For example, if the person's name is Christopher, but they have communicated to you that they prefer Chris, then use the informal name format. Try to refrain from using “Friend” or leaving it blank.
Include that extra personal touch.
Have the organization president, executive director or key influencer/solicitor write a handwritten note on the letter. It may not be possible for all donors, but it’s good to target board members, council members, dedicated volunteers, and major donors. In addition, you might have the key contact make a special phone call or send a personalized email note.
Make your donor the star.
Too often organizations make acknowledgement letters all about their accomplishments. Reframe your messaging and give specific, tangible examples of how a donor’s support is impacting the organization. If there are several different areas or programs that donors can give to, make sure you capture exactly where they have directed their gift (usually accomplished by using gift designations), and incorporate that in your letter. You can build multiple letter templates in Blackbaud CRM™, allowing you to make your acknowledgements specific and relevant to each recipient. If you are sending an email, direct donors to more information on the web about the project or program they are supporting. This can also be accomplished through the mail with a friendly URL or QR code.
Invite additional involvement.
An acknowledgment can be a good place to highlight other opportunities for your constituents to get involved. This could include volunteer opportunities, events, advocacy efforts, or connections on social media platforms. Make sure you are strategic about what you include and know your audience - you don’t want to ask one of your most active volunteers to “become a volunteer”, for example.
Have a plan to follow up.
Don’t make this the last “touch” you have with a donor before you ask them for their next gift. Integrate the acknowledgment into a wider supporter journey or stewardship plan. Give them updates on what their gift is accomplishing.
Keep it fresh.
Change up your message from time to time. Don’t let your message become stale. You need to consider that annual gift donors may be donating on a regular basis; they’ve seen your letter before, so perhaps consider updating news of your developing mission etc.
A well-written and timely acknowledgement letter reflects well on your organization. Acknowledgements show that your organization cares not only about your mission, but also about donors that make your work possible.