Don’t Let Tax Rules Intimidate When Writing Nonprofit Thank-You’s to Donors

hamsterReading Roger Craver (author of Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life) should put a jolt into any fundraiser’s Monday morning, with his analysis of why the nonprofit sector is “hemorrhaging donors and losing millions monthly.”

He’s not just engaging in hyperbole: Apparently, studies by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) have found that for every $100 brought in from new donors, nonprofits lose another — wait for it — $100, due to donor attrition. Talk about a hamster wheel. 

Number one on Roger’s list of likely reasons is “Failure to properly thank and involve donors.” Really? After all this time? It’s not that I don’t believe him, it’s just that anyone who’s ever written about nonprofit fundraising, me included, has emphasized the crucial importance of thanking donors.

Perhaps this is just another problem that can be chalked up to organizational inexperience, lack of time, or the fact that the entire development department just quit to take a job that pays better. But I wonder also whether nonprofits worry that they might get it “wrong” when writing a thank-you letter, and fail to comply with IRS regulations about thanking donors. (In fact, some nonprofits DO get it wrong, as discussed in my earlier blog, “Fundraising Oops: Thank-You Letter With Backwards Tax Info.”)

There are a few rules worth following — as much for the donors’ sake as the organization’s — but they’re really quite simple. Stephen Fishman discusses them  in his article, “Tax Deductions for Charitable Giving – The Nonprofit’s Responsibilities.” (Also see his book, Every Nonprofit’s Tax Guide.)

But when it comes right down to it, a thank-you letter for a straightforward cash donation can take practically whatever form you like: A letter, a postcard, an email. Just say how much the gift was, and then forget the IRS and get to the heartfelt part of it: gratitude that this person made a gift to help a cause that you all care about.