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The Importance of Thank You By Douglas Shaw

Rule #36: Saying Thank you to donors is necessary and profitable

Saying thank you – it sounds so simple, right?

There’s a great Wallace Shawn line from the classic movie, The Princess Bride, that always come to mind whenever I hear the annual poll results of donors’ top two giving complaints:

(1) not being thanked for a recent gift and

(2) never told what their gift accomplished.

It’s actually a word, more than a line, but I can still hear the lispy word pouring out of Vizzini’s mouth over and over again, “incontheiveable!”


I can’t even for a moment, conceive of receiving a gift, of any amount, without saying “thank you” to the person who just made the decision to take the heart action of giving a gift to my cause. I can’t fathom it! I don’t understand it! To me, it’s simply, “incontheiveable!”

But, the fact is, it’s altogether true. Most organizations expend their energies trying to come up with strategies, tactics, messaging and channels that will move a person to the point of clicking GIVE NOW or pulling out their checkbook and hand writing their organization’s name and the dollar amount of their gift, and then dating it and signing their own name.  They put their check into an envelope, rummage through their desk or kitchen junk drawer to find a stamp, affix it to the envelope, and then they have to post it in the mailbox. That’s a lot of work in today’s electronic world!

Here, in North America, that is still what most donors do. They write a check! And you know what they hear in return? Nothing! Nada! Zilch! It’s absolutely incontheivable!

Tell Them Why It Matters

The other half of this awkward exchange, if you remember, is the donor is never told what their giving has accomplished! Now, to this old fundraiser, this is adding insult to injury. The nonprofit has injured their relationship with their donor by not saying “thank you,” but there’s MORE! Now they get to insult the donor, by not informing them just how their generosity has changed or saved someone’s life. In essence, this kind of insensitivity is depriving generous people of the joy of giving!

Now, I know ministries and organizations don’t purposefully set out to do this. It seems to me they just haven’t taken the time to put themselves into the place of the donor. With all the pressure we feel, as fundraisers, to raise the maximum amount of money while spending the least amount possible, it’s pretty understandable how some organizations would let this opportunity to thank and inform donors what their gift has done slip past them. But, here’s the part I find hard to understand…by sending the donor a well-crafted thank-you letter, receipt and a reply envelope, at least 20-30% of the receipt envelopes will come back to you with yet another gift!

Now, I must admit that sometimes I exaggerate in order to make my point; not this time…I promise! Some organizations receive up to 1/3 of their total donated income from receipt or “bounce-back” income. That’s a lot of money!

A True Story

A beloved ministry and client had decided to invest heavily in donor acquisition. They needed to grow their donor base in order to support the growth of their ministry. So every fall they would mail several million pieces of direct mail, place inserts in newspapers and special stuffers into utility bills, all seeking to move the people of their city to help feed homeless people. It worked exceptionally well! The mail and the money poured in. So much so that temporary employees were hired to assist with data entry and processing thank-you/receipt letters. But something went terribly awry…the Chief Development Officer became ill and was ordered home, by her physician, for extensive bed rest. An unsupervised employee made an uninformed decision

In order to save time, the employee decided that he would either have to expend his energy entering gift data OR processing and mailing thank-you/receipt letters. He decided to enter gift data. No letters or receipts were sent to newly acquired donors for over six weeks! Hundreds of thousands of dollars were lost (because the 20-30% who should have received a thank you would have given again). But even worse, many of the newly acquired donors were insulted and did not contribute again. Now, this could happen to anybody who doesn’t know the rules of fundraising. In this case, the employee was being continually asked, “How many days of mail are yet to be entered?” Wanting to please his employer, he put his focus on the thing he thought was most important (i.e., gift data entry). He was mortified to later learn just how much his decision cost the ministry.

That’s why this rule exists: “Saying ‘Thank You’ to donors is necessary and profitable,”

and…it’s also the right thing to do!


Douglas Shaw is the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Douglas Shaw and Associates.  He provides vision, leadership, and strategic thinking to an exceptionally talented group of professionals committed to changing the world through their work and the ministries they’re privileged to serve. This post is an excerpt from his book, More Rules of Fundraising.

If you want to learn how to connect hearts to your ministry, then enroll in the Outcomes Academy 10-week course on RELATIONSHIP. You will learn the importance of marketing and communication in cultivating donor development and how to leverage technology to make an even greater impact.

You can enroll now through January 9, 2023.



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