Treat your donor like the star that they are

Published by Gareth Davies on

So, you have a new donor.  What now?

“My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you.”

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Yankee Doodle Dandy

It all begins with two magical words; thank you. Not hard to say. Someone has gone out of their way to send you a donation, so the least you can do is take the time to respond properly.  Don’t treat donations as simply items to be processed, no matter how big your mountain of mail.

Think about bigger picture.  An acknowledgment isn’t just a receipt or a thank-you: “The simple fact is that an appropriate thank you-letter is perhaps the best fundraising opportunity of all” (Ken Burnett [1]) .

Personalise your letter. And be sincere. Make your donor feel that you’re thanking them for their gift. If you want a long-term relationship with your donor…well, it begins here and now.

I‘ve worked with a CEO who hand signed letters personally and often added a personal note. Donors told us how surprised and pleased they were.  And it worked too, with a second gift rate of 60%.

Why not go one step further and ask a beneficiary to write a letter? Or call them?



“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

“First time donors who receive a personal thank-you within 48 hours are four times more likely to give again” (Damian O’Broin & Mark Phillips[2]).

Acquiring that all-important second gift is the key to a long and fruitful relationship with your donor.

So be prompt with your thanks. The sooner you thank someone the better it is…for you. Implement a policy to respond to donations in five days – or sooner if you can.

“Please, sir, I want some more”

Should you include a second ask with your thank you? Too soon? Too rude?

Perhaps the question should be, “do you (and your cause) need the support?”

Oliver twist

Oliver Twist

It is important to cement the relationship with your donor as soon as possible.  Leave it too long and they may forget you or, worse, find someone else (to support).

There’s nothing wrong with asking, as long as you explain why you need it. Perhaps include a regular giving form inside a welcome pack or leaflet.

At the very least you should try to engage your donor in your letter and develop a two-way relationship. Ask them to sign a petition, support a campaign, visit your website or complete a short survey.

“Listen to them…what music they make”

Not listening to your donor is one of the biggest mistakes you will make, and one that could stop them ever giving again.



If a donor tells or asks you something then act on it straightaway – don’t add it to your ‘to-do’ list or leave it until later. It is infuriating to continually receive letters with incorrect personal details.

Listening to your donor begins with that first donation.  But it doesn’t end there; look (and listen) to what your donors respond to in future as well – they will give you information that you can sink your teeth into, like what motivates them to give.  Record this information.  Talk to supporters about things they find interesting and they are far more likely to donate.

A good database will really help you improve the way you speak to your donors, but then that is another story altogether. For now, make sure that you record everything you know and learn about your donor.

Now, Voyager

Now, Voyager

“Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon.  We have the stars.”

At this point it’s a good time to rewind, to before you pressed play on your acquisition campaign.

Before you spend money on new donors try to keep the ones you already have. What’s the point in acquiring donors if you can’t keep them?

Look at how we are thanking and retaining donors.  After all “it typically costs around five times as much to solicit a new customer as it does to do business with an existing one” (Adrian Sargeant[3]).

ScreenHunter_01 Jul. 30 21.54Common sense right? Plug the holes in your bucket before your start pouring new water into it.

This all begins with that first thank-you. If you care about your donors, they will care about you.

The End.



[1]Ken Burnett, Thank donors – or they’ll desert you, www.thirdsector.co.uk, 2010
[2]Damian O’Broin & Mark Phillips, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, IOF Conference, 2011
[3]Adrian Sargeant, Donor Retention: What Do We Know & What Can We Do about It?, nonprofitquarterly.org, 15/08/13

Gareth Davies

Gareth moved to Wellington nearly three years ago to escape the hustle and bustle of London and the dreaded commute. He is now Acquisition Manager at Save the Children NZ in Wellington, having previously worked for the Life Flight Trust. Previously he worked for not for profits such as Action For Children in the UK, focussing on donor acquisition and retention. As well as enjoying the laid back life in Wellington and exploring the rest of this great country, Gareth enjoys walking, watching old movies and sampling the local craft beers.


Jill Flynn · June 17, 2019 at 18:20

For a $50 donation, guests received a twinkling star. They loved it and felt very special.
This is always a nice THANK YOU.

Treat your donor like the star that they are | Print my recipes · July 31, 2014 at 18:00

[…] Treat your donor like the star that they are […]

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