You Had Me At Thank YouThe 5 “Must-Haves” of a Successful Acknowledgment Program

As I write this blog, I’m so fondly reminded of that classic quote and book by Robert Fulghum, “All I Really Need to Know about Acknowledgements, I Learned in Kindergarten – Always Say Please and Thank You!”  Well… ok, while I may have taken some creative liberty on the title, the message is fittingly relevant and spot-on when it comes to Acknowledgments!

In today’s fundraising environment, where retention is the new acquisition and where new donors are getting increasingly harder and more expensive to acquire and convert; the need to nurture the donor is more critical than ever, and the presence of a strong, prompt Acknowledgment strategy is vital to the long-term health and sustainability of the file.

For some organizations, the Acknowledgment program represents one of the largest single revenue streams and the highest response mailing they do! Studies have shown that new donors who give their second gift in the first 90 days are more than twice as likely to become consecutive multi-year donors and have significantly greater lifetime value than those who don’t!

Every year, we conduct a “mystery shopping” program to evaluate the donation processing and Acknowledgment programs of nonprofits. During the first half of 2014, we made close to 50 “mystery” donations (both online and through the mail) to organizations of all sizes and causes. While some did an outstanding job, the majority have major room for improvement:

18% – Acknowledged the gift within a week (7 days).

33% – Acknowledged the gift between 1 week and 3 weeks (21 days).

46% – Acknowledged the gift between 4 weeks and 6 weeks (42 days).

3% – Never Acknowledged the gift – but began to send renewal appeals!


78% – Of the online donations received an instant e-mail confirmation of the gift, but only half of those organizations used “Thank You” in the subject line and/or provided a link back to their website so that we could learn more about them.

As you can see from our results, nearly one out of every two organizations took at least 4 weeks to acknowledge our donation. More troubling yet is the fact that we represented a coveted new-to-file donor to each organization.  So what should NPOs do?

The 5 “Must-Haves” of a Successful Acknowledgment Program

1. Be Timely

Acknowledge the gift within 24-48 hours. Never take longer than 72 hours. Thanking people quickly will help solidify the good will that you are trying to establish.

Online donations should receive an instant email acknowledgement confirmation. Use “Thank You” in the subject line, and provide a link back to your organization’s website so they can visit and learn more about you.

Respond to ALL questions and inquiries quickly!

If you offered a back-end premium – send it immediately.

2. Be Personal

Cite the specific amount and date of the gift.

Be specific to your donor’s interests. Tell them how you will (or already are) using their donation – show them results!

When possible, use variable messaging to personalize the acknowledgement. Identify what motivated them to give, and remind them of the need they responded to – they cared about it enough to give you money.

Acknowledge each returning donor’s continuing support. Including an additional reply envelope gives the donor an opportunity to make an additional instant gift.

For gifts of a certain size, personally call the donor to say, “Thank You!”

3. Make New Donors Feel Special

Approximately 50% (or more) of the new donors who give to an organization will never give again.

Remember, it’s not the first gift that’s the most important; it’s the second one! First impressions count!

New donors are still uncertain – give them more reasons to care about your work. Explain how their gift supports your work in a larger way.

Every day that you don’t acknowledge the gift is one more reason to:

  • Forget your organization.
  • Doubt the importance and impact of the gift.
  • Question your organization’s efficiency & integrity.
  • Decide to join the 50% who will never donate again.

4. Be Humble

Actually say, “Thank You!”

Appreciate your donor’s generosity. Acknowledge their thoughtfulness and concern. Remember, you have to earn the right to ask again!

A donor who feels respected and appreciated is more engaged and will give more.

5. Be Timely

Yes, I know this is repeated, but it deserves that much emphasis because of its importance in the cadence of donor conversion and higher lifetime value! Quick turnaround trumps ALL other variables, e.g., open face vs. closed face, “live” stamp vs. indicia, laser vs. handwritten signature, CRE vs. BRE, etc.

Quick turnaround also leads to measurably higher donor retention and lifetime value, and the increased response rate can dramatically improve an organization’s cash flow.

Thanking donors promptly and personally should be a priority for every organization.  It will not only help solidify that precious good will and loyalty you are trying to establish with the donor (both new and existing), but implementing these five Acknowledgment techniques will unfailingly yield stronger retention rates and higher lifetime value.

– Chris Moore is Executive Vice President of Data Services at Innovairre, which supports more than 500 nonprofit organizations around the world. To learn more about successful donor retention strategies or Innovairre, contact us at