Is the automated email message donors will receive on #GivingTuesday after they give online to your organization enough of a thank you note?

Maybe. Or maybe not. The answer is: it depends.

In fundraising, it’s often the questions about the small details rather than the questions about big strategy that cause us the most consternation. Ask us if we should hold a gala and we’re clear. Ask us about whether or not we have to send an extra thank you note and we have to stop and think. So here are my thoughts on the issue to help you spend a little less time spinning your wheels trying to figure out whether or not you’re doing the right thing.

Pretty much any fundraising platform you use for #GivingTuesday donations is going to generate an automated thank you email and/or receipt for your donors. Whether you use Classy, FirstGiving, Crowdrise, iWave, or something else, donors to your cause will get a confirmation message letting them know that their gift has been received. The automated email receipt can be used to satisfy the IRS requirements to acknowledge gifts.

But the question that always seems to come up is:  is that enough? Do we need to thank donors with more than that or can we check the “complete” box on our thank you note to-do lists?

Of course, if you or your organization has taken the time to create a donor stewardship protocol (see below), you may have already answered this question, but many don’t have the guidance a stewardship protocol offers.

If you’re organization doesn’t have a stewardship protocol and you’re wondering about #GivingTuesday, I would allow the email receipts to be sufficient for smaller gifts (less than $100, perhaps) EXCEPT with first-time donors. With first time donors, even first-time donors of small gifts, I’d make an extra effort to thank them, perhaps with a quick thank you telephone call or a postcard. If you have a donor welcome kit to offer new donors, I’d make sure all the first-time donors on #GivingTuesday receive one.  (Want to know more about donor welcome kits? See my earlier post on them here). For larger gifts, I would absolutely spend time to acknowledge the donation in the traditional ways, through a written thank you letter (or letters). For larger donors, I would not consider the email sufficient thanks.

Make sure, even with those smaller donations that you decide not to further thank from #GivingTuesday, that you communicate with those donors again. Don’t let the automatically generated thank you note they receive on #GivingTuesday be the last time they hear from you.

Saying thank you appropriately is one of the most important ways we can retain our donors so we all want to get it right. One way that you can help your organization get it right is to create a donor stewardship protocol.

What’s a donor stewardship protocol?

It’s a plan that outlines the stewardship process for your organization. I like to summarize ours in a table (or multiple tables) and I always include them in the development plans that I create.

A stewardship protocol specifies how your organization will respond to donors at each giving level. For larger donations, the process is more involved. You want to acknowledge larger donations with more effort and probably involve more people. Donors whose gifts are larger might receive a telephone call to thank them in addition to a thank you letter. Depending on the size of the gift, larger donors might also receive a handwritten note from a board member, a visit from a staff member, or a small token of appreciation. Of course, really large gifts might involve naming opportunities and more (but development policies about that level of gifts is usually spelled out other ways–for example, in policies about naming opportunities).

A donor stewardship protocol will help you beyond #GivingTuesday.

Whether you have a stewardship protocol or not, the wrap-up from #GivingTuesday will go much more quickly if you start now. Make your decisions about how you’ll thank your donors today. Go ahead and draft your basic thank you message. Make decisions about any collateral you need (images, children’s drawings, paw prints, etc.).

Part of getting ready for #GivingTuesday is also getting ready for #ThankYouWednesday.

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