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Viken Mikaelian

Viken Mikaelian

CEO, Major Gifts LLC

“Thank You” Does Not Always Work

If you’re in fundraising, you learned how to say “thank you” a long time ago. You know the cardinal rules: send a thank-you card or call within two days. Call the donor by name. Be specific about what you’re thanking them for and what their gift will accomplish. Never, ever ask for another gift when saying thank you.

Contradictory Conclusions?


A 2019 study, however, seemed to turn conventional wisdom on its head, concluding that the fact that a “thank you” was spoken makes no difference for whether or not a donor repeats a gift. USC Economics Professor Anya Samek and Blackbaud’s Chuck Longfield teamed up with public television stations and a large nonprofit to find out whether follow-up thank-you phone calls to new donors resulted in repeat contributions. About half the donors got a thank you call, the other half did not.

The results showed that making these thank-you calls made no difference at all. Matthew Gerken of Philanthropy Daily nearly panicked when he read Samek’s results. But once he dug a bit deeper on his own, he was able to provide some important perspectives on the study:

  • The donors receiving thank-you calls were receiving them between 3-7 months after they’d made their gift.
  • Calls were not made by the nonprofits’ staff, but by random call workers with no connection to the organization.
  • The calls felt like a reminder to donors that it was time to make another gift.
  • Donors had mostly received a thank you letter, email, and/or newsletter by the time the calls came.

Gerken explained, “An unexpected call six months later . . . signals that the donor is not remembered, is not appreciated, and that their donation is not significant.”

So, does saying “thank you” still matter?

You bet it does! But just as – and perhaps even more important – is saying it the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons.

We can teach you how to do just that with effective marketing and lead-generating tools, including “21 Steps to a Successful Planned Giving Program.” We can also provide you with customizable templates for your thank-you letters.

The moral of this story? Don’t let anyone tell you that thanking your donors isn’t important! In fact, it might be the most important thing you do all day. Say it early, and say it often!

By the Numbers

Consider the recruitment opportunities for your organization that these stats indicate:

  • About 63 million Americans (25% of the adult population) volunteer their time, talents, and energy to making a difference.
  • These people spend an average of 52 hours/year volunteering.
  • 72% of volunteers are involved with only one organization, while 18.3% are involved with two.

Random interesting stats presented monthly from various sources.