When I talk with clients, prospective clients and large audiences, I always hone in on two points related to building relationships:

  • The nonprofit sector’s donor retention average hovers around 45%. That’s abysmal. Acquisition costs more than retention. Organizations are out there crying poverty and lack of funds but they continue to let current donors just slip away.
  • Proper gratitude goes a long way to keeping donors. Gratitude makes them feel good, it strengthens the connection they have with your mission and builds the one-to-one relationship you are trying to create.

Those two points are interconnected. Show proper gratitude, boost your donor retention numbers.

Personalization Is The Key

My friend Rob Festenstein, the Executive Director of The Center for Independent Living Options, sends me from time-to-time articles of interest (especially those that I can include in my daily nonprofit newsletter.) About three weeks ago he forwarded me an email he received from his alma mater, Illinois State University.

Here’s how the email looked:

Great gratitude email for Rob

The email subject line, the email verbiage and image are personalized. Exactly how it should be done: You know the name of your donor. Use it in your communications!

The email creates a bit of mystery as to what this very special thank you could be. Not only that but they personalized the call-to-action: Watch your video. Very smart.

When you click the button, you’re taken to the Illinois State website and the video for Rob. Before I go on, watch the entire thing and enjoy.

Great Gratitude

The video hits all the right buttons:

  • The presenter is a current student which connects an alum to current students.
  • The storytelling? Phenomenal!
  • It opens and closes with gratitude.

Rob’s comment to me about the email and video? “Most creative thank you I have ever received for a gift.” I’m assuming Rob will continue to give and the university has retained him as a donor.

Imagine that the university did this for thousands of donors. They use the same email, same main video. But they make sure to personalize everything and have a simple yet heartfelt intro and outro to the video.

Well done!

The fact is you don’t need a heavily produced and edited video like the above to say thank you. Sometimes it’s as simple as opening your phone, hitting record and filming your CEO/staff member/volunteer/service recipient saying a heartfelt thank you to a donor.

A friend once told me of an organization that thanked first time donors by sending them a GIF of the CEO doing their happy dance. Creative? Yes. Will cause the donor to smile? Yes. Memorable? Yes. Displays a gratitude attitude? Yes, yes, yes.

Why Gratitude Is So Important

“The thank you is the single most important piece of communication that your donors get. They have a higher recall of it than the appeal that generated the gift.” – Adrian Sargeant

Want to retain donors? Enough with the stale, old, boring thank you letters. It’s time to make your gratitude memorable. There are plenty of other ways to say thank you. Doing that will cause your retention numbers to rise. Higher retention = higher donation amount = more people you can provide services and programming for.


When creating fundraising campaigns, your thank you’s should not be an afterthought. They should be part of the overall campaign plan. Having a gratitude attitude is going to help not just this campaign but the next one as well.

Looking to increase number of subscribers to your enewsletter? Boost your open and click thru rates? Convert subscribers into donors? Then my Email Marketing Kickstart is exactly what you need! And if you sign up before March 31, you’ll receive a 15% discount. Let’s work together so email is helping your fundraising and marketing efforts!