Why Online Donors Love Mailed Thank You Letters and One Great Example

It's quite clear that online donating has increased dramatically as everyone, including older generations, become digital. 

But, if you think you can send off an email thank you and still build donor loyalty, you're probably wrong.

It turns out that we are in a multi-channel world where an online donor can still appreciate a mailed thank you letter. Plus, don't forget that many of your online donations came because the donor first got a snail mail letter from you asking for that donation.

Many direct mail recipients react by going online to check out the organization's website and often make their donation online. But, the motivation may well have come from a printed letter in the first place.

Here's why mailed thank you letters work, and an example of one thank you letter to emulate.

It's Not the Economy, It's Neuroscience!

Graphic of brain/heart connection.
Vipul Umretiya/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images  

Do you send a thank you letter by mail after receiving a donation online?

Donors who give online (and there are more of them all the time), do get an emailed thank you. Your online donation system should generate one on the spot.  

But, here's the catch. That emailed thank you just isn't enough. You need to also mail a thank you letter to make your donor feel appreciated.

Why? Because our brains are wired to respond to print. Here are some eye-opening stats from MarketReach, a commercial marketing firm in the UK. They studied how long term memory affects how people respond to marketing messages. The study involved print, email, and social media messages. The results?

People remember mail better. Print mail "encodes" 49 percent more than email and 35 percent more than social media.

When long term memory is engaged, consumers are much more likely to follow through with some kind of action such as going to a website or placing an order.  

Why does this happen? The researchers chalked it up to the "power of touch." Physical mail captures attention, gives the recipient a sense of control and makes them feel more appreciated. It also provokes actions, such as making that donation.

Mail, the researchers found, also plays well with social media and other kinds of advertising such as TV. Seeing physical mail reinforced social media for example with 44 percent more attention. 

It turns out that our brains may not be ready for an entirely electronic world, but may respond well to a multimedia environment especially when the prime media is print.

Print Communications Influence First-Time Donors the Most

There's more to a donation thank you letter than just saying thanks. They also affect tax deductions.
Sheer Photo, Inc/ Photodisc/Getty Images

Snail mail is often maligned, but who doesn't look forward to going to the mailbox? Lots of donors save their thank you letters, put them on the fridge or pin them to bulletin boards.  A mailed letter "sticks" in a way that an emailed thank you does not. This is especially true for first-time givers.

And guess who is giving online? First-time donors.

Blackbaud's Charitable Giving Report for 2018 found that new donors often make their first gift online. Unfortunately, these donors have the highest attrition rates. Only about 22 percent come back.

But, what do donors who give again do? They become committed donors, volunteers, or monthly givers. Online donors who give for multiple years have a 66 percent retention rate, according to the Blackbaud report.

Thanking a donor, by mail, might be your best shot at converting a one time giver to a long term giver.

When Is the Donation Large Enough?

Can't afford this much thanking right off the bat?  Then consider giving the royal treatment to those who give more than the minimum. But keep the threshold pretty low. You never know when a small donor will turn out to be your next major donor

A Mailed Thank You Is Just Another Channel in Your Campaign

Multichannel fundraising is a hot topic, though no one talks about multichannel thanking. Consider thanking by snail mail just another channel for your campaign. Many people who receive your direct mail appeal likely respond by going to your website and donating. It's a matter of convenience, not dislike of the mail.

Are you thanking your online donors with a mailed thank you in addition to the online one? If not, consider doing it. You and your donors will be happier.

Could This Be a Perfect Thank You Letter?

Food Bank Volunteers
Steve Debenport/Vetta/Getty Images

This is a thank you letter I got from my local food bank. I had given a small amount online and already received an emailed receipt/thank you. This mailed letter came within ten days! It is warm, explains how my donation will help, and how the food bank is making my community better. I love the quote at the beginning. This letter turned me from a one-time donor to a monthly one.

Dear Joanne,
Author Henry James once said, "Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind."
Joanne, your kindness knows no bounds and, for that, we are eternally grateful.Your generous gift of _____ is improving lives in Southern Arizona.
Where there was once an empty table, a family now sits together and enjoys a meal. What was once a desolate backyard, now features a small garden plot where a young boy learns about healthy eating. And, that homeless woman who had once felt so hopeless, finds encouragement in the warmth of a comforting meal.
Your kindness has made these things possible, and we thank you for your thoughtful support.We are proud to be your partner in the fight against hunger in _____.
More than 16,000 people benefit from our emergency food assistance program each month, while our home gardening team works to build gardens for families with financial hardships.
Simultaneously, we provide meals for our homeless community, both at our  Community Kitchen and at partner organizations across town.
Giving is rooted in kindness, and you have shown us that _____ is a kind community. Thank you for caring, and thank you for giving, but most importantly, thank you for being kind.
Sincerely,Michael McDonaldChief Executive Officer
P.S. Summer is quickly approaching and, with it, higher costs of food and utilities as children are out of school. Please help parents in need get through this season, which can be their most difficult.