Posted April 1st, 2011

Say Thank You (Your Mother Would Approve)

Teaching a child to write a thank-you note for a birthday or other gift is a lesson in manners that lasts (or should last) a lifetime.

Many older donors grew up in a time when thank-you notes were de rigueur. There was of course no email, text messages or tweeting. Personal stationery and calling cards were standard.

In her “Book of Etiquette,” published in 1921, author Lillian Eichler refers to the thank-you note as the “bread and butter” letter because of its constant usage. Ms. Eichler would likely be disappointed to learn that such letters are no longer in constant usage today.

Thanking donors may not be as formal a process as it once was, but that doesn’t mean it is any less important. Let these tips guide you in ensuring that you say thank you often and in the right way:

  • Don’t wait. Make a habit of thanking your donors as soon as possible after a gift is received or you are notified of the intention of making a gift.
  • Tell the donor what the gift will mean to your programs and what a difference his or her gift will make. Use examples whenever possible.
  • An acknowledgment of the gift and a personal thank-you are not the same thing. The first is more businesslike; the second is personal. Which do you think means more to the donor? And remember that nothing takes the place of a handwritten note, especially with older people.
  • Make certain that you acknowledge longevity of giving and cumulative giving, especially in the case of older donors whose frequently repeated smaller gift may be a greater indication of long-term interest than a periodic larger gift from a younger person. Thanking these donors well and often can be a key to increasing gifts from estates over time.

Paying attention to a donor once you have received the gift improves the chances that your donor will ask the question you want to hear: “What else can I do to be a part of what you do?” Just as you open presents at birthday parties and don’t close those gifts, you should pay the same sort of attention to thanking donors as you do to the people who give you presents at your birthday or other special occasions.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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