In the business of raising money, it's important to remember that saying "thank you" is often more important than asking for money. I've often heard it said that you should say thank you seven times for every one time that you ask for money.
That's a difficult ratio to achieve. Particularly since you should consider newsletters that include remittance envelopes and emails that include a Donate Now button to both be forms of an ask, regardless of how "thankful" their content is. I also don't think that annual reports that include lists of donor names are an effective thank you, at least not in terms of building relationships (particularly if the annual reports include an envelope and a cover letter that asks for money).
Here are some ways that you can express your thanks to your donors without asking for money (knowing that doing so may actually help raise you more money in the future):
- Send them a personalized receipt letter that is hand-signed by both the CEO and Development Director within 2-3 business days of depositing their gift; if these two people don't have time to sign thank you letters to donors, they likely have the wrong priorities. If the gifts are designated to a particular program, try to have the program director sign the letter instead of the development director. At least one signature should always have a brief handwritten note -- even a simple "Thank you!" -- next to it, regardless of the size of the gift. Always feature two signatures so that donors understand that a team of people is aware of their gift. Very significant gifts, such as capital campaign contributions, should be co-signed by a board member. Never use a fake signature for a receipt. You can justify fake signatures on appeal letters to thousands of people, but no organization should be too busy that a real person cannot take a few minutes out of their day to sign thank you letters.
- Receipts should never include an envelope.
- Follow this receipt within a few weeks with a handwritten note for major gifts; let the donor know how their funds were spent and how they are an important partner with you in your work. Consider inviting them on a tour or for a personal meeting just to say thank you.
- Say thank you at least two times at each public event that you hold. If possible, try to publicly thank the sponsors by name each time.
- Feature a donor profile in each newsletter that you send. This will make that donor feel very special, but will also let other donors know that they're appreciated.
- Similarly, feature donor profiles on your Web site.
- After you wrap up an event, send the sponsors/attendees a "thank you" letter that does not include a remittance envelope. Consider including pictures from the event.
- Consider sending postcards that express your thanks to donors by featuring a success story that their support helped create. Postcards are cheap to print and to mail, and you don't have to worry about open rates. Make the front image compelling, and keep the copy short and focused on saying thank you.
- Send an annual thank you letter from the CEO to the previous year's donors on the first week of the year. Make the letter as personal as possible -- definitely cite the amount that they donated in the past year (i.e. "We appreciate your two gifts for a total of $135 last year."), and try to segment the letters as much as possible by gift amount and donor type (i.e. individual vs. institution). Give examples of how their money was used.
Here's an idea. Focus on trying to get this reaction from your donors when they open a package from you: