Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone. -G.B. Stern
Members are the foundation upon which your organization rests. You literally can’t afford to take them for granted.
The two most important rules for donor acknowledgment are:
Acknowledge members’ generosity promptly when they give.
Acknowledge the value of members' contributions throughout the year.
As your sustainer file increases, and renewals no longer offer you an obvious occasion for a thank-you, your station needs to develop a plan to keep sustainers involved. Find other ways to cultivate and remind them of their importance. Otherwise, your most essential members will become the ones who hear from you the least. And then they won’t stick around.
Say thank you immediately...
Gifts made online allow you to send an acknowledgment automatically via email. Clicking the Submit button on your donation form should take your donors to an acknowledgment page, thanking them with a simple message and letting them know that an email confirmation of their gift is also on the way so that they will have an immediate copy for their records.
Most people who give online already receive a lot of unwanted email, so make sure your subject line includes the words thank you or thanks, and that the message is clearly sent from your station. Your message should balance gratitude with business. Keep the tone warm and friendly; begin with a thank-you and a sentence or two showing how the gift helps.
You’ll also want to include the gift amount and the date on which it was made for the donor’s records, but make sure that the inclusion of those elements doesn’t make the letter doesn’t sound purely transactional. It’s a thank-you message first.
On the phone
Your telemarketing callers can issue the most immediate kind of acknowledgment by saying “thank you” at least once during the conversation. Make sure “thank you” is written into the scripts. When monitoring call quality, make sure callers are being gracious to all donors, no matter the size of their gift.
The same goes for members calling in to donate during an on-air drive (or any other time). The person who takes their call has a critical opportunity to express your station’s gratitude warmly and personally.
Thank-a-member days, in which staff and volunteers from across the station call members just to say thanks and make no ask at all, are an effective way to give members an unexpected, genuine message of thanks and to remind station staff who don’t interact much with donors on a daily basis where most of their funding comes from.
And immediately after...
On the air
You can also use air time to make a public thank-you to individuals during a pitch, which has the additional benefit of sometimes motivating others to give as well. Just make sure that you have the donor’s permission before thanking them over the air, and don’t use any identifying information beyond their first name and city.
Acknowledgments sent via email are fast, automated, and cost-effective, but the gratitude conveyed is relatively shallow and short-lived. People breeze through tens, even hundreds of emails a day. Once yours is opened and deleted, the transaction and acknowledgment can be quickly forgotten. To build a stronger relationship with the donor, you need to follow up with an actual letter via postal mail.
The first piece of acknowledgment “snail” mail should be sent just as automatically as that first email, as soon as possible after a donation has been entered into the system. You donor should receive a letter that is timely, ideally within a week of making the gift. If the recipient is a first-time donor, acknowledgment and thanks should be part of a series of mailings and/or emails that welcome your new donor into membership at your station. And just as you do with email acknowledgments, make sure the thank-you message is out front; include it on the envelope to clearly state the letter’s purpose.
And since you’re also required to send out a year-end tax statement, that’s another ideal opportunity to add a friendly message of thanks and reminder of member benefits.
An email welcome series
A “welcome” email series is an easy, cost-effective way to continue nurturing connections with new donors. This is usually a series of three to four weekly or bi-weekly emails, which share information about the station with your new donors. Let them know about member benefits, newsletters, social media, member surveys and events, as well as other ways to get involved like volunteering, vehicle donations, or planned giving. Be sure that the tone and content of each message is giving and useful, not asking and transactional.
Then, keep saying thank-you.
Once you have thanked the donor and sent them a welcome series, don’t make the mistake of abandoning them until you write to ask for more money. With sustainer giving on the rise, you want to make sure your valuable donors hear from you regularly and feel like a valuable part of your station’s team. Develop a cultivation plan that involves at least two pieces of mail or email per year that don’t include a solicitation.
Other ways to cultivate donors:
A member magazine: monthly, quarterly, semi-annually
Email newsletters: weekly, bi-weekly, monthly
Postcards just to say thanks
Postcards with useful, timely news for donors
A special gift, like a bookmark, decal, or notepad
Special event invitations or ticket discounts
A special message from the CEO with insider information