Expressing gratitude can get you far in life.
According to Judy Ghazoul Hilow, executive director of Malachi House, and Megan O’Bryan, vice president of development at Cuyahoga Community College Foundation, both in Cleveland, thank you’s also go a long way in non-profit fundraising.
Saying “thank you” to donors goes a long way at the end of the year and can pave the way for future gifts.
“Thanking donors is perhaps the most important thing we can do to stand out during the holiday season when so many organizations are reaching out for a year-end gift,” O’Bryan said. “The art of donor communication balances thanking, recognizing, listening and asking, and we work hard to not lose that balance.”
Throughout her career, Hilow said she’s learned that saying “thank you” trumps all other parts of fundraising, adding “there is nothing more important than thanking people, and I carry that throughout my life.”
Explaining that the co-founder of Malachi House, Catherine “Kaki” O’Neill, teaches that saying thanks promptly is key, Hilow added the thank you should be as personal as possible.
“Thanking people isn’t just a letter,” she said. “It is also acknowledging them in other print collateral. We do that in a couple of different ways – including letters, wherein each one, I have a blue marker that I use to write a personal note. Even if I don’t know the donor well or at all. I’ve had so many people call me back and say that personal touch meant so much to them.”
And it’s important to even take a step past that, Hilow said. Personal phone calls are another way to make sure donors feel appreciated, and “you can never do enough,” she added.
If done right, the thank you can lead to stronger donor relationships.
“It’s all about relationships,” Hilow explained. “Sending those ‘touches,’ like a note, newsletter or what have you, is crucial to the final result. And it doesn’t always happen immediately and it rarely does, but without that thank you and appreciation, it won’t happen at all.”
Hilow added Malachi House also utilizes the community to get their thanks across to donors. Last year, a local high school student created a Valentine’s Day card that got sent out to donors.
“I can’t tell you the number of people who loved that,” she recalled. “They were crazy about it, and it was totally unexpected. It surprised them to know we are truly grateful, and not just when we are asking for their support. Those are the things that boost the donor-organization relationship.”
O’Bryan said saying thank you and being consistent with that gratitude sets organizations apart from the rest.
“It’s important to stand out and make the right impression, with so many organizations accelerating their communications as the year comes to a close,” she noted. “Expressing gratitude across multiple platforms shows our reverence and respect for donors. At Tri-C Foundation, we view our donors like cherished family. We strive to show our appreciation and respect to our supporters, earn their trust and truly listen to what matters to them.”
For Tri-C Foundation’s development team, O’Bryan said they are “rediscovering the joys of sending U.S. mail and the art of the personal phone call.”
“During this time of year, donors who have an endowed scholarship fund at the Tri-C Foundation receive a very personalized packet that includes student stories so they can see the impact of their gift,” she said.
Adding the team also likes to use students whenever they can in correspondence, O’Bryan said, “Our goal is to be authentic in our approach and to make things light and more fun after a challenging year.”
A well-crafted and meaningful thank you also promotes organizational longevity.
“It inspires others to also give,” Hilow noted. “When you acknowledge them in a thank you, it also triggers them to give more sometimes. Don’t forget to ask if they’d be willing to step up more this year. A ‘thank you’ is a way to change and improve the system.”
O’Bryan added, “Everyone wants to be appreciated. It is truly that simple, and it applies to all of our actions in life. People give because it makes them feel good, and saying thank you with sincerity is a critical part of the bond with our donors. And, that bond is the foundation of an organization’s future. Saying thank you gives us all hope for the future.”