Thank You Receipts: Are You Missing a Critical Opportunity?

Recently I made contributions to two nonprofit organizations.  One in the Midwest, the other on the East Coast.  Both very well respected, regional organizations.  My contributions weren’t huge.  Just $25 each.  But $25 isn’t a bad first time gift for most organizations.

This afternoon I went out to the mailbox and found two receipts, one from each organization.  After opening and reading the contents of each of the two envelopes, I was unfortunately underwhelmed.  Bummed, in fact.  These are both very well respected nonprofits that raise significant amounts of money every year. 

But their receipt programs really miss the mark.  There were a series of problems with each of them.

#1. Timing:
I made my gifts the morning of 7/12.  The receipts were dated 7/20, and I received them on 7/23.  Start to finish, that’s nine full business days to process and receipt my gift. 

Nothing says your gift wasn’t important like a late thank you. 

#2: Letter tone/content:
The two letters were very similar.  They fulfilled the purpose of providing me with a tax receipt document for my contribution, but both lacked even the slightest bit of warmth.  It’s as if the finance departments at each organization had written them. 

In one letter, there was literally one sentence acknowledging my gift and vaguely mentioning it would make an impact.  Following that, the entire remaining body of the letter (and the P.S.) were focused on tax information. 

The second letter was strikingly similar.  The majority of the content was focused on providing me with a tax receipt.  I will give this org slightly more credit, as their letter was duplexed, and the back had some additional information about the organization.  Included with the background info was a paragraph directing me to join their online community on Facebook or Twitter. 

While the second organization gets a few points for offering me a means to join their online community, both failed in the content of their thank you copy.  It wasn’t warm, inviting, appreciative or welcoming.  It didn’t draw me into the community of supporters, didn’t convey that my gift was critical to their success or that they were happy that I had joined the ranks of their supporters.

And neither charity asked me to do anything more.  It was purely transactional.  I had begun the transaction with my contribution, and they had completed it with the gift receipt.  Done.  Finished.  Over. 

There was no attempt, from either organization, to leverage the positive emotion I had from making my gift to get me to take another action.  Give a 2nd gift.  Send a note to someone whose life was impacted by my gift.  Become a monthly supporter.  Sign a petition.  Share their information with my neighbor. 

There are a host of actions that I would have seriously considered, if they’d only asked. 

But they didn’t.

#3: Package:
Both of these receipts were mailed in #10 window envelopes.  Both were postmarked with First Class indicia.  Both letters were printed on 8 1/2 x 11 letterhead.  Neither included a reply card or return envelope.  Again, this shows me that they thought our relationship was complete.  The transaction was over, so why provide me with a means for continuing the relationship, I guess . . .

You might be wondering why any of this is important.  Maybe some of what I’ve written hits close to home, stings a little.  Does your organization make some of these mistakes?  And yes, they are mistakes.  Let me tell you why.

These contributions were my first gifts to both of these organizations.  Statistics say there’s greater than a 50% chance that I will never give another gift to either of these organizations.  These organizations, because of the way their receipt programs are structured, are significantly increasing the odds that I won’t make another gift.  That means lower second gift conversion, lower donor retention, and lost revenue.  None of those are good for these organizations, or for your organization.

How do you fix a program like this?  It might seem like a lot of work, but it’s quite easy, actually.

1. Process gifts and get receipts out in a more timely manner.  Shoot for 48-72 hour turn around time on receipts.

2. Warm up the letter copy.  Take the time to tell me a story about a client that my gift helped, or some other great work you’re doing with my gift.  Help me understand why it was important that I made my gift when I did.

3. Share your vision with me.  Remind me why I gave in the first place, and what it is we can accomplish if we just partner together for a better future.

4. Customize my receipt letter based on our relationship.  If I’m a new donor, welcome me into the family of supporters.  If I’m a frequent donor, recognize that fact by telling me how wonderful my ongoing commitment to the organization is.  If I’m a reactivated lapsed donor, take a moment to gush a little and welcome me back – and let me know how much you’ve missed me.

5. Don’t let our relationship go stale with this one transaction.  Give me a reason to do something else.  Be specific.  Tell me how great it is to have my support, and why it’s critical that I stick with you in the future.  Give me a goal to aim for, and ask me to do something specific to help reach that goal.

6. Make it easy for me to make another contribution.  At the very least, include a reply envelope so that I have a way to make another gift.  If you want to be even more aggressive (that’s a good word, IMHO), use an 8 1/2 x 14, 3-part form that includes a personalized reply device that I can tear off and use to make a second gift.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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