Thank You, Thank You

I recently facilitated a workshop where 35 discrete organizations were represented. During a discussion on retaining donors, I asked “How many of you send a thank you letter to every single donor?”

You may not be surprised, but I was when only two hands went up. I shouldn’t have been. I hear often enough from donors who complain about not being thanked for their generosity. And while I believe them when they say they don’t receive thank you letters, I also want to believe that these letters are going out, it’s just that it’s not enough or not timely enough for donors. Or, perhaps, donors weren’t opening these thank you letters, thinking it was just another solicitation letter.

Clearly, however, I was giving more credit to nonprofits than many of them deserve.

That started me writing an online course, Step by Step Stewardship, which will be available in the spring at the to-be launched next month (November) <a href=>. While I am not above self-serving advertising (obviously), the other reason I mention this what has come up as I’ve been researching and writing.

I’ve long known that what can seem to be fundamental is often not-so basic to many organizations. More importantly, these basics do define development programs. Which leads me seamlessly into my soapbox oration of the day.

When I started in this field about 25 years ago, there was a real push to stop calling it “fundraising” and focus on the word “development.”

Development is synonymous with such words as expansion, progress, improvement. It suggests a continuum of activity that grows over time and makes things better. It implies involvement, which, in turn, certainly means that relationships are built and, yes, nurtured. Stewardship.

Fundraising, on the other hand, focuses on that one act of getting money or other kinds of support. It’s more transactional than development, and more often than not (think politics), there is some quid pro quo--something for something—involved.

Because the pendulum has swung back, as it generally does, the word development appears mainly in titles (development department, development director. The function of those who work in the area is to fundraise, pure and simple. And what that does is put the emphasis on getting the gift. Once the gift has been gotten, the job is done.

Thinking (and acting) that way, of course, makes the development director’s job more difficult. Since the most likely prospect for a gift is an existing donor, it’s only smart to keep that donor happy.

Remember the last time you gave something to someone—your kids, your spouse, someone else’s kids, a friend. How would you have felt (or, perhaps, how did you feel) if they simply took what you gave and walked away? Now think how you would feel if the next time they deigned to speak to you was—yes!—when they were asking you for yet another something.

Unless you are a lot more saintly than I, you probably weren’t looking upon that someone so kindly. Indeed, while you mayhave given them what they asked for this second time, if they didn’t change their behavior, you sure wouldn’t give them anything a third.

Donors are no different. If you don’t thank them for their gift, they are not going to be inclined to make a second gift. And you will have spent a lot of time and effort to get minimum return.

Start by making sure you say “thank you” to every single donor at the time they make their gift. Then think about the many ways you can develop that relationship. For here is a basic truth that you should never forget: Donors give because they care about the work you do, have a connection with the person who asks for the gift, feel connected to the organization and generally are involved with your organization in as many ways as possible.

Janet Levine is a consultant who focuses on increasing productivity for nonprofit organizations, their staff and volunteers. She can be reached at Gets Grants!, an online grantwriting class is is available at
Other online classes will be available November 1, 2009 at <a href=>