June 26, 2020


As the country navigates the economic effects of massive unemployment, the health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, and calls for change due to systematic inequality, the public media system continues its essential public service for audiences and donors who are affected by this complex and historic moment.

Donors have been extraordinarily generous since the beginning of the pandemic response in March and there are no signs of that slowing down. Organizations are seeing gift-club ($1000 – $5000) donors give earlier and bigger gifts than expected and we are having more substantial conversations with major gift prospects in cultivation.

This is all wonderful news. Where we have started to let donors down is in the back-end process now that we are no longer working collaboratively in an office environment. Many organizations struggle to send timely and personal thank-you letters to donors under normal circumstances. The pressures of all these joint crises together have made that process break down even further.

There seem to be three main reasons that this type of stewardship has stumbled.

  1. Gift officers are extra busy and all aspects of their work is harder during lockdowns.
  2. It’s easy to feel stuck creatively and not know what to say.
  3. We may fear the donor won’t appreciate the note.

In this moment Americans are giving to your great work because they want to have impact, feel connected, useful, and above all kind. When you are able to reciprocate the kindness of their financial gift by sending them confirmation that you received their gift and that it was appreciated, and  that you will be putting it to work immediately to inform and inspire your community, you are not just checking off a box in the donor process but you are fulfilling an important part of the responsibility of being a fundraiser.

Taking each of those impediments separately, how can you set up systems that support you to do your best work?

1. Overcoming Difficult Work Circumstances

Acknowledge that you are under more pressure working from home, perhaps without designated work time and space in addition to other at-home complications. One strategy that may work is to set aside one hour every other day for stewardship tasks. Use that time to write notes, emails or make calls and guard that time for only those activities. Put it on your schedule and inform your boss and teammates of this new priority.

If you need to give yourself a reward for completing the task, do that. Experiment and take notes on what keeps you focused and inspired to do this important work and adjust your approach based on your insights. Do not worry about not having the official letterhead or note cards in this moment, donors will understand.

2. Finding Your Creativity

There is a reason that we have etiquette rules for thank-you notes. Having a system and expectations helps us all be the most gracious. The good news for fundraisers is that you don’t need to be uniquely creative with every note. Following some general recommendations while being heartfelt and specific to the recipient is sure to make the donor feel special. This template will guide you through the steps. And this sample letter can give you some useful language as well.

3. Wanting Your Efforts to Be Well-Received

This last one is the most tricky to address. Many of us can fall into a trap of knowing something is important but also wanting the work to be perfect. We might talk ourselves out of acting because we want to make the donor feel singularly appreciated.This is understandable. The solution here is to offer yourself the same grace that you extend to your donors. It is unlikely you will offend or upset your donors with your note, but it is likely to damage the relationship if you ignore them and their offer of partnership.

Two solutions may help. First, give yourself a specific time-bound goal. “I will write a note to donor Jane Jarez on Thursday.” Second, ask someone to hold you accountable. This doesn’t need to be a boss or team member, just someone who you know will follow up with you so that you have an external reason to push through.

The reporting, resource-sharing, listening parties and artist connections that each of your stations are doing in this time are extraordinary and deeply needed by your listeners. It is no wonder that donors with higher capacity are responding by contributing in big ways. When you thank them promptly and meaningfully, you grow that sense of impact and, therefore, the potential for their continued support.