The Power of Thanks and Gratitude


Expressing our thanks for donors and supporters goes beyond a tax acknowledgement. Learn more about the science and some techniques to help you say thanks.

Thank you for taking a moment to read this story.

In previous roles, I’ve always sent a thank you email the week of Thanksgiving. Not necessarily mentioning Thanksgiving but it’s a good reminder that we should pause and say thank you. Why? It’s good manners of course… and its effective.

This type of blog post isn’t anything new. You can search ‘donor thank you research’ and find many results. But, I hope to offer a few innovative ideas around the concept of gratitude and how to thank your Supporters. Some are tested and some are just ideas. How you choose to thank Supporters is up to you, but should you? Let’s see.

friends hugging

The Data

Here are a couple of statistics to open our conversation from Guidestar.

  • Chances of an existing donor giving again – 60 percent to 70 percent
  • Chances of a lapsed donor giving – 20 percent to 40 percent
  • Chances of a prospect giving – < 2 percent

More than 60 percent of all nonprofits don’t thank donors properly – whether slow, impersonal or well, not at all. Learn more from Roger Craver here.

Research shows that a personal thank you received within 48 hours increases the likelihood of first-time donors giving again.

So… If I lose existing donors, I work a LOT harder getting new donors. But, If I keep my current donors happy they will give again. And, if I thank them personally and promptly – new or old – they are more likely to give again?

We know we should say thank you because it’s polite. So many times on the digital side of fundraising, I’ve been asked to set and forget the standard acknowledgement. Despite my offers to call people who set up a peer-to-peer campaign or made a unique contribution. No. That is Development’s job. So the organization’s digital donors are left with a generic ‘thanks and here’s your tax receipt’ and we have no idea what touch points they receive after that. Often in organizations, any gift under $250 (the US IRS requirement for a physical letter to be sent) get nothing after that impersonal gift acknowledgement – the same one every year. Maybe a post-card.

It’s ok if you fall into this category. I have some ideas you can implement on the digital side to make things more personal further on down. For now though we need to explore one more concept, gratitude.

Gratitude and the Power of Thanks

We know thanking is polite and should be done as a matter of protocol but there is actual science behind results of giving thanks. The power of gratititude is a popular concept these days. I’ve gifted more than one ‘Gratitude Journal’ to friends or family. I have my own gratitude app that reminds me to share a positive thought each day. Does it make me feel good? Yes. Especially to go back and re-read those thoughts. I’m a regular scientific case study.

There’s quite a bit of research out there on the power of gratitude but I found the content – much of it science driven – of The Greater Good Science Center at University of California Berkley’s, particularly helpful.

This video on the research of Robert Emmons is very interesting and powerful.

The basics are that Donors and Supporters receiving gratitude are more likely to engage with your cause in the future. Alternately, expressing gratitude has a positive impact on your organization. Interacting with a donor to express gratitude will improve the morale of staff – which is a gift that will keep giving as well.

Ideas for Expressing Gratitude

Acknowledgment Email

I know earlier I mentioned this being very generic but there are things you can do to dress up your donation acknowledgements.

  • Update your content quarterly to keep it fresh. If donors notice they got the exact same ‘thank you’ as they got a year ago it shows how much you care about thanking them.
  • Focus on the donor and the impact they have given to your cause. Use ‘you’ content and talk less about your cause. Tell them how their gift will help your work.
  • Make it personal. Use the personalization tools in your eCRM to add name content, transaction detail and more. By giving some thoughtful planning to personalizing your emails you can make it feel less like a tax acknowledgement and more like a genuine thank you.

Marketing Automation

Engaging Networks allows you to set up detailed action-based marketing automations. These emails can go out over the course of weeks or even months after a donation is made. Imaging this sequence happening automatically – or get more creative!

  1. A donor makes a gift of $50 – They are added to a marketing automation based on that gift and they receive their tax acknowledgement immediately.
  2. Consider a “thank you” or note of gratitude for their donation within your upsell lightbox.
  3. 36 hours later they receive a personal thank you email from the CEO.
  4. 2 weeks later they receive a thank you from a scientist in the field whose work was assisted by their gift.
  5. 3 weeks after that they get another thanks perhaps with a suggestion to become a recurring donor.

Create several gratitude journeys and test them!

Pick Up the Phone

I know this is hard but it works. This is the fastest way to cut through the clutter of a digital age – to go retro. Perhaps target your donors that are the best prospects to move up to Individual Giving and call them when you see a gift come through. In Engaging Networks, you can set staff notifications to come through based on very specific donation criteria.

Use Video

Video storytelling can be powerful and tied with a thank you explicitly stated in the video – it can change a donor’s perspective. Now you can’t personalize video content so you have to offer some context but you can build a beautiful video with general thanks. This can be a verbal thanks from your CEO worked in with field video and impact graphics – if you have the resources. Or, it can be as simple as beautiful videos, music and text overlays. This National Wildlife Federation Thank You Video (2015) is a good example. I’m a sucker for environmental causes but it made me want to give right now (you had me at snowy owl).

Make it a Team Effort

Sometimes its good to get the team together to give thanks – literally. Engaging Networks Accredited Partner, Raise the Roots, worked with Rethink Breast Cancer in 2018 to run an innovative Giving Tuesday Campaign. The team worked together to run a #GivingTuesday Give-a-thon. On that day, they put a united emphasis on their ‘Care Packages’ and sent Instastories, email and more pointing to custom donation forms. The team gathered together and worked tirelessly throughout the campaign to activley thank donors on social media as gifts came in. You can see the presentation from ENCC Toronto 2019 here. And keep an eye on Rethink Breast Cancer to see what they come up with this year!

New and Innovative

Just a thought on innovative ways to build a movement of gratitude. After thinking about the Rethink Breast Cancer campaign and my gratitude app, how beautiful would it be to send your thank you and encourage others to share (in a common place) what they are grateful for around your cause. Say you’re Oceana, you thank your donors in a well crafted email on a special day – before Thanksgiving or after the holidays. In that email you direct them to a landing page where they can complete a form to share what they are grateful for in the ocean. Those results are shared anonomously on a scrolling graphic via API or posted to social media to build a movement. Gratitude becomes gratitude.

I hope you find a good way to thank your Supporters and Donors – both are equally important. Thanking prospects for any support they give will only further build their affinity for your cause.

Again, I’m thankful that you read this post. And, I’m thankful for all you do to make our world a better place.

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