As the popular holiday song lyric says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” We are in the mist of the holiday season, and what better time to thank your donors’ for their support as we approach the end of 2015. Year-end stewardship provides an opportunity to acknowledge your supporters at every giving level. Donors of means may make large gifts at the end of the calendar year, while those of more modest means may make smaller gifts throughout the year. Whatever the amount, there are numerous ways to thank your supporters for their 2015 giving. Some can be expensive, others incur minimum costs. Let me suggest that you consider the gift size and the donor’s history to appropriately express your appreciation. Also, be sure to include year-end stewardship when planning your budget.
Year-End Stewardship: Ideas for Thanking Donors
The following are some suggestions for year-end stewardship.
A Personal “Thank You”
There is nothing better than an immediate, personal expression of thanks. A phone call, email or text from a key executive, organization leader or volunteer within 48 hours of receiving a major gift is great stewardship. This is especially true at this time of the year, in the event that your acknowledgement letter and gift receipt are delayed. The donor won’t be wondering if the gift was lost in the abundance of holiday mail. Fundraising expert, Penelope Burk’s research revealed that 95% of all studied donors would be very appreciative if a member of the board of directors called them to say thank you within a day or two of receiving the gift, and 85% of individual donors said that it would influence their decision to give again.
Thank You Letters and Tax Documentation
This one is a given. All donors should receive prompt, heartfelt thank you letters, ideally within 72 hours of receiving the gift. The letter should be personalized and read like it was written just for the donor. Keep it short, one to two concise paragraphs are all you need to get your message across, and remember to reference the intended use of the gift. Enclose an official gift receipt to provide tax documentation for the donor’s charitable contribution. Be mindful that pledge payments, recurring credit card gifts, payroll deductions, tithes and offerings must be accounted for when acknowledging year-end giving and donors appreciate receiving this information promptly.
Holiday Greeting Cards
Many non-profits, businesses, churches and other religious and charitable organizations send holiday greeting cards to their donors and congregants. The message is tailored depending on the nature of your institution but should clearly express gratitude and best wishes. You may also consider sending your greeting card or a message of appreciation via email. This week alone, I’ve received holiday greetings cards from my church, dentist practice, a couple of businesses and charitable organizations that I support. I even received a card from a political candidate that I didn’t even support.
Thank You Phone-a-thon
A year-end thank you phone-a-thon offers an opportunity to thank donors and provide funding updates. Donors will be delighted that the call is not asking for a donation. It is a thoughtful way to help them feel connected and appreciated.
An Invitation to a Special Holiday Event
The holiday season is the perfect time to host special events, such as a reception, luncheon or dinner, with the sole purpose of thanking your donors. The event can be associated with one of your annual holiday programs or events. Some of these special events come with the expectation that the guest list will be exclusive in some way. Invitations to holiday events can be extend to gift societies members, donors that support a certain initiative or any donor group that you wish to cultivate. Each event offers the opportunity to recognize and connect donors who share a commitment to your organization.
If a major donor values interaction with people in your organization, arrange a meeting with a program leader who can describe the ultimate result of the gift. Research conducted by Penelope Burk offers some great insight about the importance of this stewardship activity - 98% of the donors she interviewed said charities “never or hardly ever” visit without asking for money. A year-end visit to a donor just to say “thank you” and with a token of appreciation (a poinsettia for example), can heighten your relationship with your major donors.
A Year-End Newsletter
Donors always appreciate receiving an update on how their money is making a difference. A year-end newsletter can be creative in illustrating what has been accomplished with the help of charitable gifts and feature a message of appreciation. It may include specific donor recognition and a listing of donors for a particular initiative. Depending on the nature of your institution, organization or business, and your audience, newsletters can be provided via mail or accessed electronically.
Acknowledging Corporate and Foundation Donors
You should also consider formal recognition for corporate/foundation donors. They often welcome certificates and plaques to hang in their offices. Corporate and foundations donors also want to see their giving highlighted in organizational newsletters, impact reports and other publications.
Meaningful stewardship is the best cultivation for future giving.
In summary, I urge you to use year-end stewardship to build stronger relationships with donors. It’s the right thing to do. You aren’t entitled to a donor’s gift. By demonstrating accountability and expressing gratitude through thoughtful stewardship, you will strengthen the relationship between you and your supporters.