I’ve worked alot on donor retention and often written about the importance of keeping the donors you already have. But in a recent webinar on storytelling for nonprofits, I had a rude awakening. The webinar was presented by the legendary fundraiser Ken Burnett. He was talking about how effective stories can be in the answering the donor’s question, “Did my gift make a difference?”

Then he dropped a bombshell: Ken said that when a donor makes a gift, the need to know “Did my gift make a difference?” is almost instantaneous! When it comes to answering that question, 2 weeks is too slow. It is almost like donors get “buyers remorse,” that feeling of let-down we experience after making a big purchase. Apparently donors seem to get that after making a gift.

All my “don’t-you-understand-how-much-work-I’ve-got-to-do” alarms went off. What do you mean a donor can’t wait two weeks?!

How to affirm donors almost instantly

This can feel overwhelming, can’t it? I know we are told to get those gift acknowledgements out in 24-48 hours, but most organizations I’ve spoken with take longer, dangerously close to two weeks. And that’s just a “gift acknowledgement.” So after a donor’s gift, our first printed communication is usually a boring, mass-merge letter saying little more than “we’ve cashed your check and you didn’t get anything in return.” And that’s come a week or two after the gift.

I remember thinking, “If we’re doing all we can and it’s still taking two weeks, how in the world can we get them out faster?”

Donor delight starts with the gift

Then it hit me! We often have an automated email after someone makes an online gift. Maybe we can start there.

A few week ago, I purchased a necklace made with brass recycled from old bombs to support Love146. I’d felt good about surprising my wife while supporting people fighting human trafficking.

What happened next completely caught me off guard.

First, I saw a normal, boring looking order confirmation:
ImagineGood Love146 email subject
Then I clicked to open the email and saw a surprising tweak that totally delighted me:
ImagineGood Love146 email

Wouldn’t it be great if our nonprofits delighted donors like I was delighted by this message? I’d opened it thinking it was simply an automated boring email. The boring is in there. But the opening blew me away. It immediately took my mind off of the transaction and centered it on the impact.

Why can’t we do this in our nonprofits?

Transactions create impact, but transactions aren’t the point

This week, review your automated receipt/gift acknowledgement systems. Where can you get your donor’s mind off the transaction and back on the impact. Here are three things this company did that you can do at your nonprofit too:

  • Sentence fragments

    Typically the bane of elementary school English teachers, sentence fragments can be great attention grabbers. The email above is only a couple lines. Rather than making it a bland, well-rounded sentence, they used lots of sentence fragments. “Yes!” And “Nicely done.” And “Really.” These fragments caught my eye and grabbed my attention.

  • Know your donors’ tone

    Obviously you need to speak in the tone of your typical donor. Just listen to how they’re talking about things they’re excited about. You might even segment your replies so you can have some flexibility with the tone. Remember to match the tone of you donor, not the tone you happen to prefer! In the email above using the word “SO” in all caps works for me. But it may not work for you. It could be that all you may need is simply a “Congratulations!” or “Yes!” followed by how their gift will be used to make impact.

  • Make impact front and center

    Too often, we forfeit a donor engagement opportunity by simply filling a letter or email with the details of a transaction. Those transactional details are crucial. They build trust. But the email above put those transaction details in the context of impact. Now, when I review the dollar amounts and transaction details, I am reminded these are helping make an impact I am proud of.

The best part? I was simply buying a cool necklace for my wife. I knew it would probably help Love146. I had no connection with the seller at all. But because of their awesome order confirmation, I was now able to see my purchase in a broader picture. And they allowed me to see myself in a broader picture…as a person who makes a difference with artisans.

Who wouldn’t want to be that kind of person? What kind of person are your donors being when they give? Don’t assume they’ll “get” it. Tweak your transaction response to tell them! And to tell them in a way they’ll actually read!

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