I’ve heard too many stories like these lately: The environmental group that failed to send the promised calendar (and instead barraged the new member with additional requests for donations); the community radio station that sent the wrong book to an elderly recipient (and on top of that, sent her an anti-capitalist tract that she found politically suspect); the organization that had a major layoff and failed to send any of the promised thank-you gifts to anyone at all.
Perhaps that last situation is impossible to predict and avoid, but what’s up with the other ones? Surely no nonprofit on the planet thinks its okay to stiff donors of their promised gifts. More likely such lapses happen due to a breakdown in organization — a task gets delegated to someone with little experience, perhaps, or part of the work is handled by outside consultants and then the organization somehow fails or forgets to resume its in-house responsibilities.
While such lapses are understandable, they’re not excusable if the organization wants to maintain halfway decent donor relations. I don’t have statistics to back this up, but it’s probably safe to say that donors who don’t receive the thank-you gifts they thought they’d signed up for will not soon forget this apparent snub. (Why else would they tell me stories about it?)
It will damage their sense of relationship with the nonprofit, make them doubt its ability to organize matters with regard to its mission, and in the future, dull their interest in hearing about the latest cool thank-you gifts on offer in return for their pledge of $X!
If you realize that your nonprofit has made such mistakes in the past, it’s time for some serious damage control. Send a follow-up card and gift, make a phone call, do whatever it takes to assauge the donor’s sense of breached trust. You may not win that donor back, but you’ll at least reduce the degree to which he or she is tempted to badmouth your organization to others.
On the bright side, — and this isn’t much of one — a donor who doesn’t get a thank-you gift can take the full tax deduction for the donation! (In fact, this is a good reminder that donors should be able to opt out of receiving thank-you gifts — and the nonprofit should make sure to abide by the opt-outs and not send the gift.) Attorney Stephen Fishman explains these issues further in “Tax Deductions for Charitable Giving – The Nonprofit’s Responsibilities.”