How long does it take to thank a donor?

How much time elapses between the arrival of a check and the departure of the thank mailmanyou letter?  I have heard many grand reasons for delays: the mail is delivered to a different building than the development office, thank you letters are done by a volunteer who only comes in once a week, the database makes it complicated, the finance department hogs the checks, the executive director wants to sign all the acknowledgements and sometimes they sit on her desk.  And on and on.  But the donor is not thinking about any of that.  Here is what the donor may be thinking:

 If you get the thank you letter out in less than 1 week – “Wow, this is an efficient organization that really noticed when I sent a check.  Maybe I will send a bigger one next time.”

If you get the thank you letter out in 1 to 2 weeks – “This is an organization with an average level of competence and donor appreciation.”

If it takes more than 2 weeks – “Did they get the check?  Do they care?  I should call, but I don’t want to call.  I know they are working hard, but I wish…”

What do your donors think about your thank you time line?

What’s the best way to engage donors?

Cultivation.  It’s a word that fund raisers toss around as if everyone knows what it means.  But cultivation is different in every organization.  Before you ask someone for a large contribution you want her to feel how great and critical your work is.  Here are a few examples of exquisite ways different organizations have done that.

sproutAn international development organization has staff from all over the world come to the US for a week of donor visits.  Visits with foundation officers, one on one conversations with major donors and prospects, and house parties organized by board members, are all crowded onto the schedule.  It’s a logistical nightmare, but it is a very effective way of making a faraway program feel real.  They call it “BlitzCraig” because Craig is the staff member who organizes it.

A charter school for girls has a day every year called “Cool women, hot jobs” when they invite women entrepreneurs and professionals to come talk to their classes.  Many of the visitors are impressed enough by the students that at the end of the day, sign up to provide internships for the students in their offices.  And many write checks on the spot.

A neighborhood performance center has a board member who keeps a list of 10 prospective supporters.  “Every time I decide to go to an event at the center,” she told me, “I call them all and leave messages asking if they want to come with me.”  Simple, right?

What are the best examples of donor cultivation you have seen?