People often ask me, is it important to thank a recurring donor every month? The answer depends on how they gave in the first place.
When the Recurring Donation Comes Through Offline Methods.
When someone becomes a recurring donor offline, say through direct mail, telemarketing, face to face, TV, or any other 'offline' medium, I always recommend sending an immediate snail mail thank you letter for joining but then after that NOT to send .donors monthly thank you letters.
It costs money to send a thank you via snail mail which defeats the purpose of having someone join as a recurring donor. However, you should send a tax receipt in January of all their gifts, so they have it for their records and, of course, you should always thank the donors in your annual appeals, recognizing them as special.
Online Recurring Donor Receipts: Make them Personal and Special
For online credit card recurring donors, where a monthly thank you email is typically generated automatically, I recommend something slightly different.
Definitely send a snail mail letter to thank the donor for joining the recurring giving program and send the tax receipt via snail mail (and email) in January.
But you'll also have to make an extra effort to alternate the monthly thank you receipts. You're certainly not treating these donors special if you keep sending the same standard thank you month after month. These donors are making a considerable ongoing contribution to your organization so you should treat them special.
While I like PayPal and Network for Good a lot for their ease of use in having donors join a recurring giving program, their email receipts are not great. In the "off the shelf" versions of these services your org can't change the messages, although customization is available in Network for Good's Donate Now option. Just take a look at these automatically generated receipts:
You sent an automatic payment
Hello e waasdorp,
You sent an automatice payment to Marstons Mills Public Library, Inc. Here are the details:
To: Marston Mills Public Library, Inc
Customer service URL: http://www.xxxxx
Customer service email: email@example.com
Customer service phone: xxx-xxx-xxxx
Automatic payment details:
And here's a Network For Good example
Date: May 21, 2014 at 6:23:51 AM MST
Subject: Thank you for your donation!
The following donation(s) were scheduled to be processed today per instructions from pledge(s) you've made in the past.
Nonprofit Organization: NAME
On behalf of your favorite charity(ies), we thank you for your generous support! By making an automated donation online through Network for Good, you have chosen one of the most efficient and cost effective ways to give to charity.
Your contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. You may save or print this receipt for your records and the information will be conveniently stored in your donation history for you to access at any time. This email certifies that you have made this donation as a charitable contribution and you are not receiving any goods or services in return. This receipt may be useful to you when completing your tax return.
Your credit card will be billed as Network for Good instead of the names of the organizations receiving the funds because your donation is to the Network for Good Donor Advised Fund (tax ID 68-0480736), which will re-grant your donation to the charity/ies you designated. All donations are final and may not be refunded. Your donation has been processed as follows:
Zip/Postal Code: xxx
Total Donation Amount: $10.50
Method of Payment: Visa
Name on Credit Card: xx
Credit Card Last 4 Digits: xxxx
Date: Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Time: 9:23 AM EDT
Reference Number: xxxxxxxxxxx
These have been abbreviated here, but they both continue in this dry legalistic way. And this 'standard approach' does not apply to just PayPal or Network for Good receipts. We can certainly explain why these two are just not able to make it any more personal because it's not the organization issuing them, they're just the 'middle man' if you will. The sad news is that I have seen even several large organizations with other credit card processing systems where the email receipts are not very good either when they could be much better.
Do the above email receipts seem special to you? Do they tell the donor about the impact their gift is making? Absolutely not. A receipt is not a thank you.
How to Make a Better Impression
But, there is a simple solution that does not take that much time or extra resources, and it WILL make a world of difference to the recurring donor you're trying to keep and in the future upgrade to higher levels.
If all is well, you should have already coded these recurring donors in your email list as a special segment. If not, start doing this as soon as possible! You'll benefit from it in the short and long run!
Here is a simple recommendation to address the issue of recurring donor receipts that does not take that much time:
1. Create a special variation of your email newsletter to include a thank you to your recurring donor
I trust that you're sending out an email newsletter or message to your donors at least once a month. If so, I recommend creating a slight variation of the email introduction that simply says:
Thank you for being such a great member of the Circle of Friends (fill in name of your monthly giving group). You make a difference to the many people (animals) etc. we serve (fill in specifics)… Thanks to you we're able to have the funds to… (fill in specifics).
Then go into the rest of your email blast announcing upcoming events and activities… or better yet tell the story about one of your clients. Do not repeat the amount and date of their gift in this email but focus on the fact that they are such a loyal donor to your organization and they're truly SPECIAL! You should be able to do this in the first few lines of your email newsletter.
This way, it gives the recurring donor that 'special feeling.' It's not a lot of extra work on your part and it's also less important at what time of the month you send that email. And believe it or not, you can occasionally even include an ask for money in some of those email blasts (but do fit it in with your overall communication strategy! If you're already in the mail heavily, you may just use those email blasts as reminders.
The long and short of it is, you just told the recurring donor how special they are to your organization and the difference their ongoing gifts make. And, if you get feedback and testimonials from your recurring donors, don't be afraid to use them. People love hearing from other donors confirming that they made the right decision (joining your recurring giving program)!
2. Send at least four special email thank yous at a minimum
If you are not yet sending a regular email newsletter now, I highly recommend you do at least four special email blast thank you emails to your recurring donors annually. They don't have to be very long or elaborate, just personal and really appreciative. Many organizations tend to change up their typical snail mail thank you letters once a quarter, depending upon their annual fund schedule, so just make a simple email variation, work in the reference to being a recurring donor et voila!
I'm all for keeping things simple and manageable, so try to use what you already have in place and make small tweaks to accommodate the recurring donors. It is important to treat this special group special. You'll continue to benefit from these recurring donors, month after month, for many years to come!
And, if you have questions or special email thank you notes to share, please feel free to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erica Waasdorp is my go-to resource whenever I have a question about recurring giving. She is the author of the hot new book, Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant. See more about Erica here, including a link to where you can buy her book.