I recently attended the Bridge conference and came home with some great ideas and learnings.  But one of the most important lessons didn’t happen in a workshop or general session.  It was a result of the modest tip I left for the housekeeper.

After the first day of note-taking and learning, I returned to my room, tossed things on the desk and noticed that there was a handwritten note on the little pad of paper the hotel provides:  “Thank you for your tip.”  It wasn’t preprinted or mass-produced; I could tell that the housekeeper, along with cleaning 10 to 14 rooms that day, had taken time to write this short note to meNote from maid 7-15

I was impressed.  And I “upgraded” her the next day, leaving a much larger tip than usual, as well as my own note: “Thank you for your good work.”

So, what does this have to do with fundraising? 

There’s a trend at more and more nonprofits to not receipt donations.  Some set a minimum amount threshold for this, others rely on the annual receipt or invite donors to go online and print their own receipt if they desire.

In this day and age of impersonal communication and (dare I say it?) superficial relationships where we measure our value by our Facebook “friends” or Twitter followers, would the nonprofit that truly thanks a donor stand out in the crowd?  And would taking 8 seconds (I timed it) to write “Thank you for your gift!” at the bottom of a receipt significantly raise our overhead?

I am an audience of one, but I do think it matters.  A thoughtful thank you makes me feel appreciated.  There are so many places I can donate; yes, I care about certain causes more than others, but even then, I have many choices—and it’s easy for me to find even more, thanks to the Internet.

As fundraisers, we are good at producing content—online, offline, videos, presentations, proposals and more.  There’s a lot of talking at our donors, when maybe we need to spend more time showing gratitude to them. As Henrik Ibsen said, “A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.”

If your donor appreciation program is lacking, don’t let another day go by without asking yourself if the money you are saving being mediocre at best is really a savings or a deterrent to more giving. 

Some questions to ask are:

  1. How long does it take us to get a receipt out—really, not ideally?
  2. Is that receipt more than a tax document? Is there genuine gratitude expressed?
  3. Are we inviting donors to ignore us by sending out the same boiler-plate information and thank you text for months, if not years?
  4. Does our online gift acknowledgement meet all IRS standards but fail to convey the thanks of a human being, not a machine?
  5. Is there anything we can do to make our donors look forward to getting our receipt? How can we surprise them?
  6. Do our receipts make it easy for a donor to give again without feeling heavy-handed?
  7. Have I ever asked a donor if he or she feels appreciated when the receipt arrives?
  8. Are we hurting retention in the name of saving the money receipting would cost?

I hope the housekeeper who came into my room the next day after I checked out felt as appreciated as I did when I received her note.  And I truly hope our donors never doubt that their gift is playing a part in making our world just a little bit better.  Let’s be sure we’re telling them that!


Pamela Barden, CFRE, is a Direct Response Fundraising Strategist and Copywriter. With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations.  She specializes in writing fundraising copy, P.R. materials and instructional articles, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy.

As Vice President and Group Director at Russ Reid (2006–2009), she was responsible for the management of the largest single account for this marketing agency specializing in nonprofit fundraising.  Her nonprofit experience includes leading the fundraising work for International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (2001–2006); World Relief Corporation (1988–2001) and Youth for Christ/USA (1979–1988).

Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from the DMA, a Distinguished Instructor for UCLA Extension, adjunct instructor at University of La Verne and a weekly columnist for “Today in Fundraising.”

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