Seriously, say "thank you".

"To be acknowledged: 491."

This organization, at last check, had 491 gifts that had not been acknowledged. I'm lighting my hair on fire over this one, people. We've got to do better with this simple, relationship-building activity. And I don't care if you've been to all the conferences, all the training, all the college-level philanthropy courses -- if you aren't managing to get people thanked, you are still at square one in this game. It's not Development 101, it's Remedial Development, and you, we all, have to move past needing this discussion at all. But maybe we aren't quite there yet.

You've got this awesome fundraising software, with bells and whistles, and it's streamlining your administrative tasks and all's right with the world. Except maybe it isn't.

Three times in the last few weeks, I've talked with three different organizations about why they aren't getting acknowledgements out in a timely manner. The excuses (I'll call them what they are) were something along the line of "we're changing systems . . .", "I was waiting for a large batch so I could do them all at once", "something didn't work in our software", "well, they should get an automatic acknowledgement for the online gift", always a technical issue.

But it's not.

It's a personal issue. It's an issue of whether or not we believe that it is actually important to say to an investor, a donor, "We appreciate what you gave and here's what we're going to do with it." It's an issue of carrying out our part of the delicate conversation with donors, the conversation that keeps them coming back to us, keeps us sharing our good work with them, keeps them interested, engaged, and investing. 

So if whatever system you have in place isn't working (what's the lapsed time between when a gift is received and when a donor receives a genuine acknowledgement of the gift?) you've got to delve in and find some new solutions. 

When an organization says they just don't have staff to do timely thank yous, I ask some questions like --

  • What if you couldn't deposit contributions until they'd been acknowledged? I'll bet you'd figure something out. The finance person would probably have a lot to say about this and would be happy to help find a good solution.
  • Are your development tasks divided up appropriately? Is the person least likely to get things like this done the one in charge of it? Adapting tasks to personalities and work loads isn't a sign of anyone's failure - it's a sign of smart management.
  • Do you have a culture that values - no, make that treasures -  the relationships you have with donors? If you do, you should all - top to bottom - have a sense of real joy in thanking donors as quickly as contributions come in. Somebody dash off a handwritten note even before the official thank you is issued. Somebody pick up the phone and just let the gratitude flow.  If not, if nobody's the least bit disturbed when your "thanking" system fails, you've got big problems all around. Time for some deep discussions about who values what.

Maybe it's time for a quick, honest audit of how your processes look from the donor's side. For real. (Let me know if I can help you with this.)

We can do better. Hair on fire, friends.



Joan Brown