May 29, 2014

Donor Letters: What Errors Have You Seen?

A friend notified a well-recognized national nonprofit that he was leaving a gift to them in his will. Within two week a packet of material arrived to thank him. The materials affirmed the wisdom on his choice and included several impressive brochures.

A week later a letter arrived from the CEO’s thanking him for the gift.

The fourth week, a second letter arrived from a third person thanking him for the gift.

Good work. Good stewardship. Great efficiency. Right?

Yes, for the multiple quick responses.

No, for several details that left a negative impression. The good news is that these can be easily fixed and provide a big pay-off. The challenges?

1. The signature on both letters—while made to look original—were computer generated. No title was indicated on the second letter. It made my friend wonder, who is this person and why do they know about my personal plans?

Recommendation: Personally sign your letters. Identify your position or skip the second letter.

2. All three pieces used a peel-off mailing label. While appropriate for the packet, on the letters the labels looked cheap. They made the letters look like they were part of a mass mailing.

Recommendation: Individually print your envelopes.

3. The name on the label did not match the inside letter.

Recommendation: Check to make sure the names match.

Bequests average $70,000. Does it make sense to leave an impression of haste when you’re communicating with a major donor? Invest an extra five minutes. Be efficient long-term. Do it right.

What errors have you seen or made in letters to donors? How did you fix them?


Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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