(Illustration by Hannah Agosta Illustration, based on a photo by Jessie Fox)
How to Give is a biweekly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @FancyLansie.
THIS WEEK’S QUESTION:
I’m volunteering for a small nonprofit foundation and I’m worried that our donors aren’t being thanked enough. We don’t have any full-time staff, so sending out prompt acknowledgement letters is about all we can do right now. Do you have any advice for ways we can “wow” our donors?
First of all, kudos to you on two accounts: One, it is awesome that you are volunteering your time in such a skilled way, and two, I applaud you for knowing your limits. “Capacity” seems to be a four-letter word at most of the conferences and speaking engagements I go to. Yes, there are always tons of great ideas being tossed around, but if the nonprofit doesn’t have the capacity to implement them, it’s all moot.
Oh! And a big, loving, hugs-that-squeeze-the-air-outta-ya third kudos to you for being so mindful of your donors’ experience. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in a small nonprofit and slip into grumpy rationalizations and assumptions about your donors … that they don’t need to be thanked another time, that they probably don’t even remember that they gave to you, that they had a good time at your party so the memories should be thanks enough.
When time is a premium, sending yet another thank you note can feel like unnecessary overkill. But it’s not! As my wise giving guru once told me, “No one ever got in trouble for thanking someone too much, but plenty of people get in trouble for not saying thank you enough.”
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Keeping your limited capacity in mind, I’ll start with a semi-obvious one: handwritten thank you notes. I’m assuming that there are other people on this board, so your job is to make it as easy as possible for them to help you. My suggestion: Get small thank you notes made through a printer like Fireball (nonprofit discount!) or VistaPrint. Personally, I love an A2 size — 4 ¼ x 5 ½ is just enough space to say thanks, but not too much that you start rambling. Make sure to get some return address labels, too.
Next, you get all of the donors you want to thank onto one spreadsheet with their full name and address. Print that out. Get a package of nice pens (I’m a sucker for the UniBall gel pens in black) and a few bottles of wine. Type up a scripted guide for everyone to follow and copy onto their cards.
Here, you can steal mine:
Thank you so much for supporting [NAME OF ORGANIZATION]. Generosity like yours is the fuel that keeps our Train of Awesome humming full speed ahead, toward a future where [INSERT YOUR UNIQUE BENEFIT HERE, FOR EXAMPLE “EVERY DOG HAS A FOREVER HOME” OR “EVERY CHILD CAN PLAY WITHOUT FEAR”]. We know that there are many worthy charities out there, and we’re humbled and honored that you choose to support us. Thank you!
Now, this next part is very important: Get everyone in the same room, and have them each write at least five (but probably more like 10) thank you notes. Every person. All at the same time. (This is where the wine comes in handy.) Why? Because if you give them the notes and ask them to take them home and do it, it just won’t get done.
And then you’ll be stressed out because you don’t know if the notes got sent. And the other board members will be stressed out because they’ll see that stack of thank you notes looming and feel guilty with each passing day. And then gratitude becomes a chore, when it should be an enjoyable act of camaraderie and communion.
Accomplishing a task together feels good. It creates a culture of gratitude amongst your members, and reminds them that you’re all joined together in a community of philanthropy. Writing thank you notes, even if it is just one or two, can even be a great way to kick off or end your board meetings.
Here are some other quick yet lovely ways to delight your donors:
- Get ready for their close-up: Go the extra mile during events and make sure to capture great pictures of your supporters. Ask their permission to use the photos digitally, and couple that with a big, digital “THANK YOU!” Now you have a way to publicly acknowledge their generosity while also using positive social pressure to demonstrate your worth to other donors. The Spruce Foundation does an excellent job at this.
- Whip out your videophone: Instagram is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms, and it allows you to upload short video clips and “tag” your friends and donors in them. For Next Stop: Democracy’s successful Kickstarter campaign, we created a triptych of thank you videos for our backers and received a great response. Total time spent? About 10 minutes per video.
- Keep the camera rolling: Using your smartphone and readily available editing apps, you can also create quick “update” videos to embed into your foundation’s newsletters. Have your board members share a quick success story and thank donors for their support. Keep it under 30 seconds and people will be delighted to watch it.
One last thing …
I know it’s silly, but I love sending major donors $5 gift cards to La Colombe with a note that says “Thanks a latte” and inviting them out for a cup of coffee to learn more about their interest in the organization and to say thanks.
For those of you who aren’t groaning from the bad pun, feel free to steal this tactic!-30-
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