The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Best Practices in Donor Thank Yous: Q&A with Pursuant’s Rachel Muir

rachel_muir1_1In a recent Nonprofit 911 webinar, Rachel Muir shared strategies to help nonprofits transform their year-end donors into year-round supporters through research, strategy, and plain old hard work.

In this post, Rachel takes on another fundraising challenge: thanking donors. She shares her answers to questions from fundraising professionals about how they can make the most of this valuable donor communication.

If you include a donation envelope in a thank you letter, is that considered asking for another donation?

Rachel Muir: My advice is let the thank you letter express meaningful and heartfelt gratitude only. This letter is not the place to risk offending donors with a donation request. Check out this article for tips on making the most of this donor communication.

How donors define over-solicitation?

RM: According to Penelope Burk’s research, donors define over-solicitation as being asked to give before they were told their first gift made an impact.

If you have a big fundraising event (like a donor lunch) and people donate money, how do you thank them all? Is it ok to do a form letter after a big event with a handwritten signature?

RM: Thanking donors isn’t optional, it’s essential. Make sure you plan ahead so that you have enough help thanking donors properly after the event. Most people just want to take a few days off after a big event, but if you crafted a great experience, your donors may be basking in the glow of feeling great about your organization. Do what you need to do to make this last!

Yes, your thank you can be a letter you personally sign. Copy will be key here. Your letter can also be a card on stationary with your logo. Digital printing makes these inexpensive to produce.

My board is not involved in fundraising at all. My boss appears to have limited interest in getting them engaged. Do you have any advice on making the case for their involvement in fundraising?

RM: You aren’t alone! Many fundraisers share your dilemma. Having board members thank donors is the perfect way to introduce them to fundraising for your organization. While they may not reach most donors directly, the ones that they do will be overjoyed to be thanked personally by a board member!  Prepare the board members with a thank you script and a couple of discovery questions. Take five minutes at your monthly board meeting to hand out donor names and scripts and let them make the calls. Don’t forget to ask them to report back their results too!

To start, download this great webinar on getting your board members engaged in fundraising to get started.  If you want more Board resources, review this guide with more than 50 tips to develop your board.

We are just starting to be more systematic in making phone calls to solicit annual appeal donations. What do you think is the most important part of phone solicitations? 

RM: No doubt you are realizing how much persistence it requires to get a donor on the phone! To start, train staff members making calls by rehearsing call scenarios. Empower them with good discovery details on the donors or give them time to research the donors before they make their calls.  Make sure they are prepared with great discovery questions and next steps, such as inviting the donors to events like a behind the scenes tour, a reception for program recipients, or a breakfast with leadership. Even if they never come, the invitation is the cultivation.

My organization has different “tiers” of donors according to their giving. Should we be thanking them differently, like a cocktail party for the higher-end givers and just cards for those who give less?

RM: Donors do not know what kind of love and attention is waiting for them at higher gift amounts. You do, but they don’t. Most organizations use gift amounts to determine if a donor gets into a major gift portfolio when they should also be examining behavioral indicators and wealth screening to make those decisions.

What is best way to reconnect with lapsed donors?

RM: One of donors’ biggest pet peeves is not knowing that their gift made a difference. That’s why it’s invaluable for you to reconnect with them. While you may be tempted to talk at them about all the great things you are doing, what they want to hear is that you remember and value them (and their gifts!). Mention what you achieved with their gift as well as a highlight of a program that’s of interest to them. This will help reinforce that they made the right decision to support you!
BONUS:  Want to spend some more time with Rachel?  Join her for Fundraising Bootcamp in Dallas, Texas!

This one-day training will be loaded with tips and tools to transform your fundraising.  All Network for Good readers receive a $100 discount when they type FRIEND at check out!  As a special bonus, the first 10 guests will get one night free hotel when they sign up for the training.


Rachel Muir, CFRE. is Vice President of Training at Pursuant, where she transforms individuals into confident, successful fundraisers through classroom, custom, and online training.  When she was just 26, Rachel Muir launched Girlstart, a non-profit organization to empower girls in math, science, engineering and technology in the living room of her apartment with $500 and a credit card.  Several years later, she had raised more than 10 million dollars and was featured on Oprah, CNN, and the Today show.

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Linda Lombardi
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