Fundraising for Small Groups Newsletter

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December 16, 2018

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Thanking Donors: The "Stick Letter"

by Deane Brengle

I was recently reminded by marketing expert Marcia Yudkin about the importance of properly thanking a customer after they have made their first purchase. In marketing terms it's called the "stick letter".

As Marcia puts it, "A "stick letter" gets that name because it helps the sale "stick" - this is, it decreases the chance that the purchaser asks for a refund. It does that in several ways: by stating the appropriate expectations for and the benefits of the product; by explaining how to get started using the product; and by saying what to do in case of questions."

Sounds reasonable enough. For a business, refunds are a costly, time consuming process. It makes sense to treat your new customer right so they won't be tempted to ask for a refund. Or worse yet, go someplace else for their next purchase!

Marcia also went on to explain to me that when you treat your customer with the "utmost respect, a good stick letter also sets the stage for more expensive follow-up sales". And that's the point when I had my epiphany - this is exactly what a good donor thank you letter should do.

Now I know that many of you have trouble enough sending out a timely thank you letter in any form. And that some of you may even blow off small donors. You know - the $10 and $20 donors.

But you better start paying attention to little details like this. Because in a down economy this is one the small points that can save your nonprofit from going down the tubes.

Thriving for profit companies love a recession. It weeds out the competition. Companies that aren't "on their game" won't be around when the economy turns back up. They will be bankrupt.

And the same thing goes for nonprofits. If you aren't "on your game" you won't survive.

Time to pay attention to the small details.

The Donor "Stick Letter"

While nonprofits don't usually have to worry about donors asking for a refund they can learn much from the stick letter.

A first time donor stick letter should convey and evoke the exact same feelings as its for profit cousin.

  1. State the appropriate expectations for the donation.

    What is the donor expecting for their donation? First and foremost a heart felt thank you. Short, sweet, and simple.

    Given the state of our economy, the competition for their donation dollars is getting intense. Let them know that you understand everyone is watching their pocketbooks and that you are grateful that they have found it in their heart to contribute to your cause.

  2. State the benefits of the donation.

    Every donor wants to know their donation is being put to good use.

    So tell them. And tell them specifically where you will spend their money. Is it to fund a new position or program? Or buy food for your shelter animals? Or to put a new roof on your building? Be specific. Name names. Tell the story. It will help them feel like their donation makes a difference.

    Let them know that your whole organization values their donation and that you will watch over it like it was money you had donated yourself.

  3. Explaining how to get started interacting with your nonprofit.

    Here is your up sell. No, I don't mean asking outright for another donation.

    Instead, invite them to connect with your organization. More interaction means more opportunities to convey your message. It helps draw them into and feel a part of your cause. If you do this correctly they will be asking you to donate more!

    Here are some ideas to start that interaction:

    • Add them to your newsletter (print and/or email).
    • Invite them to visit your website.
    • Invite them to read your blog (with RSS feed if available).
    • Invite them to an open house.
    • Invite them to become a volunteer.
    • Invite them to an event (not necessarily a fundraiser).

  4. Saying what to do in case of questions.

    Contact information is essential. And not just your switchboard number. Give them phone numbers for your volunteer coordinator and your planned giving director. Let them know that your website has contact information for your entire organization.

    Don't ever assume they won't be interested in the many opportunities your organization has for them to help. Make it easy for them to connect with the correct person.


Your donor stick letter may take many forms. In fact, I would encourage you to have several responses for different donation levels.

Every first time donor deserves a thank you. And the opportunity to become more involved with your organization. Because in the end - everyone wins.

Borrowing from Marcia again, "In the long run, the small bit of extra trouble necessary to do this right makes a big difference."

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Fundraising Expert - Deane Brengle

About the Author:

Deane Brengle writes for several free online publications that cover fundraising for small nonprofit groups. You can visit these publications and read more about fundraising in articles by him and other experts in the field at The Fund$Raiser Cyberzine, The Fundraising for Small Groups Newsletter, and Fundraising Booklets.

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