If you’re going to go out of your way to thank a donor fabulously, creatively, as many times and as many ways as you can, which donor should it be?
Do you single out the person who gives you the most money, or the person who gives most loyally over the years?
Let me tell you two stories to help you decide.
The Sudden Passion
The receptionist at the anti-poverty agency where I worked brought me the day’s mail. I opened a handful of reply envelopes from our most recent fundraising appeal. Then I gasped. A woman who had never given us a penny before had sent in a check for $1,000!
For our little nonprofit, $1,000 was a fortune. It was ten times the amount of the average donor’s gift. And it was the first time that Jean had donated. We had great hopes for the future.
As far as I know, we did all the right things to let Jean feel the #donorlove. We
- Sent her a thank-you letter with a personal note from the Executive Director, the same day we received her donation
- Followed it up with a voicemail
- Listed her in our newsletter and annual report
- Invited her to special events
Yet we never heard from Jean again. I still don’t know why. Perhaps she meant to give to an organization in town with a similar name, and she was too embarrassed to tell us she’d made a mistake? Or perhaps we’d touched her heart just that one time, and the morning after, she realized she loved some other organization better?
I’m not sorry we had our brief moment of passion with Jean. But I’m glad we didn’t run away with her and forget about the donors waiting at home.
The Love of a Lifetime
John was a client of our agency. He couldn’t give much at a time–certainly not $1,000! But he had volunteered or served on the Board for twenty-five years.
Whenever we sent an appeal letter, he gave what he could. And when we had our twenty-fifth anniversary gala, John went around town (walking with a cane) and solicited gifts from local businesses. Back at his subsidized elderly housing, he went door to door and asked his neighbors to donate.
Over a lifetime, John raised $1,000 many times over.
Because John was shy, we couldn’t applaud him in public the way we would have liked. We sent him thank-yous and listed his donations, but we never toasted him or sent him gifts.
At Board meetings, however, we thanked him and held him up as an example. And our agency went above and beyond to make sure he (and later, his daughter) would keep his housing and benefits, even when he was hospitalized for months at a time. That was another way of saying thanks.
Do You Have to Choose?
Ideally, of course, you’d thank every donor fervently and frequently. Aim to do that! If you have to choose, however, pick your most loyal donors at every level.
Don’t just thank your major donors. If your newsletters are full of pictures of people who pay for whole buildings or programs, then your average donor will think, “This organization doesn’t need people like me.”
Show the love to the people who, over time, show the most love to you.
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