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Please send a thank you note to your donors


In the last few months, I’ve been on a business development kick by sitting down with non-profit leaders and developing proposals for their consideration based on those conversation. After sending out the proposal, which they requested and helped frame, my recent experience is . . . nothing happens. And I do mean nothing. No follow-up phone call. No email. Not even a “thanks but no thanks form letter.” And when I initiate the follow-up, I sometimes don’t even get a response to that communication. Really?!? I am wearing deodorant (even cologne, usually). Ugh!

As I sit and contemplate this weird little trend in my professional life, I got thinking about the bigger picture and last five years of my life.

  • The last time I sent an organization my resume for a job vacancy (more than five years ago), I never received a letter acknowledging receipt of my application or a rejection letter
  • I’ve sent countless emails to non-profit organizations over the last five years asking if I could buy the CEO a cup of coffee or meal in an effort to “get to know them and their organization a little better as well as introduce myself,” and many times my email and phone calls would go unreturned
  • We’ve even made charitable contributions in the last few years and either didn’t receive a gift acknowledgement letter or it arrived oddly late

All of this chin stroking and head scratching inspired me to dust off my copy of Penelope Burk’s Donor Centered Fundraising book to look for data on how often this type of stuff happens in the non-profit sector. This is some of what I found on page 38:

  • 38% of donors say they always receive a thank you letter after making a charitable gift
  • 41% report receiving something most of the time
  • 19% receive an acknowledgement sometimes

Burk goes on to mention on page 46:

Prompt gift acknowledgement influences 44% of study donors’ future giving decisions. 38% of study donors receive a thank you letter within two weeks; 54% within a month; 8% within two months.

As I think back to that year-end charitable gift we made to an area organization for the first time, I’m remembering: a) it was the first gift we ever made to that organization outside of an event ticket and b) it is the last time we gave them any money and haven’t participated in any of their events since. As I process this for the first time since it happened, I don’t think we’re mad about it. I suspect we just don’t care enough, especially if they don’t seem to care about it.

I am left with the following thoughts and questions:

  • With so many organizations using donor databases today, isn’t it as simple as a key stroke to produce a gift acknowledgement letter?
  • Is it too time consuming to put a customized note on each computer generated letter to help alleviate the impersonal nature of this type of response?
  • For loyal donors or larger philanthropists, is another handwritten thank you note that difficult to produce?

If I had a nickle for every fundraising professional who asked me for “good samples” of gift acknowledgement and thank you letters, I would be a wealthy man. If you are one of those people who is stuck and needs a little advice, then spend a little time with the following data that Burk shares on page 37:

What donors feel makes a thank you letter superior: personalized in some way 51%; acknowledges how the gift will be used 30%; handwritten 16%; signed by a member of the board 13%

I highly recommend purchasing one of Penelope Burk’s books. For people who subscribe to and read this blog, you know I’ve been a fan for a long time.

In addition to the amazing Penelope Burk, I also suggest looking at:

And for those of you who are looking for samples and templates of well written acknowledgement and thank you letters, Miss Manners also has some wise advice for you that was published on July 24, 2012 in the Washington Post. Click here to read what she has to say. Enjoy!  😉

What is your organization’s policy on gift acknowledgement and thank you letters? Where is that policy written (e.g. gift acceptance policy? resource development plan’s section on RD policies?) What consideration went into developing your policy (e.g. size of fundraising staff? technology? donor retention goal?) Please use the comment box to share your thought and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Gift acknowledgement letters, quid pro quo and the IRS


It has been an exhausting whirlwind of work the last few months. While I would never dare complain about work so as not to upset the consulting gods, I need to take a short break.  So, this week I will re-run some of the most viewed DonorDreams blog posts on fundraising and leadership. I hope you enjoy today’s post on gift acknowledgement letters. Enjoy the flashback!  ~Erik

Gift acknowledgement letters, quid pro quo and the IRS 

Originally posted on March 27, 2012

irs1I cannot count the number of times that I’ve attended a non-profit organization’s special event fundraiser and walked away with a gift acknowledgement letter that was not compliant with “IRS Publication 1771, Charitable Contributions–Substantiation and Disclosure Requirements”.

Rather than use the language of accountants and tax professionals to explain, I’ll let the following hypothetically example speak for itself.

  • My first contribution to “Agency X” is the purchase of two dinner tickets for what I am hoping will be the best rubber chicken of my life. My out-of-pocket expenses to get in the room is $120.
  • When I show up, I am assaulted by happy volunteers selling 50-50 raffle tickets. My out-of-pocket expenses to get these intensely happy people who are blocking my path to the bar is $20.
  • With a nice glass of wine in my hand, I am finally able to mingle with old friends, but I end distracted by all of the shiny objects in the silent auction. <<Sigh>> At the end of the evening, I discover that “Agency X” is deeper into my wallet for another $250 in out-of-pocket expenses.
  • The final blow came many glasses of wine into the evening during the live auction (ahhhh, of course it is always the booze and the live auction that sinks most donors). Those Opening Day Chicago Cubs tickets had my name written all of them and only cost $1,000.

So, the next morning usually comes with a hangover and regret (even though “Agency X” is an amazing charity and you’re always happy to have supported their awesome mission). A few days later in the mail comes a gift acknowledgement letter. It tells me how wonderful I am and contains some nice “return on investment” and stewardship verbiage. Ahhhh, gotta love that warm fuzzy feeling.

You’re probably wondering “What’s wrong with all that?”

Well, the gift acknowledgement letter thanked me for my charitable contribution of $1,390.

Sure, if you do the math $120 + $20 + $250 + $1,000 does add up to $1,390, but this was not size of my “charitable contribution” according to the Internal Revenue Service, and now  I need to take time out of my busy day to chase down the executive director or fundraising professional at “Agency X” for a correct letter. To help clarify the math, here is exactly what the IRS has to say on the subject:

“A donor may only take a contribution deduction to the extent that his/her contribution exceeds the fair market value of the goods or services the donor receives in return for the contribution; therefore, donors need to know the value of the goods or services.”

Let’s circle back and do the math one more time:

  • The event tickets cost $120, but the food I received in exchange for the ticket purchase was valued at $20 per plate. So, $120 minus $40 means that the charitable contribution only amounted to $80.
  • The $20 in raffle tickets got me four chances at a cash prize. The “value” I received for those chances was twenty bucks. So, $20 minus $20 means that I didn’t make a charitable contribution in the eyes of the IRS.
  • The silent auction was a huge benefit to me because I got some amazing bargains. Woo Hoo! Move over Wal-Mart! So, I might have spent $250, but the items I won totaled $500 in value. So, $250 minus $500 means that I didn’t make a charitable contribution in the eyes of the IRS.
  • And last but certainly not least, there was the booze fueled live auction. The bad news . . . it was $1,000. The good news . . . I finally got something to write off on my taxes. Opening Day tickets to see another woeful season of the Chicago Cubs are valued at $500 (of course, White Sox fans would argue that they are worth nothing). So, $1,000 minus $500 means that I can deduct $500 from my taxes next year.

The IRS tells us that it is legitimate to acknowledge my overall gift of $1,390 as long as somewhere (usually at the bottom of the letter in a footnote) there is language that explains that the fair market value of the items I purchased was $810 and only $580 of my $1,390 contribution is tax-deductible.

In my experience as a donor, this rarely happens and I end up wasting my time chasing after a new gift acknowledgement letter. The harm to “Agency X” is twofold:

  1. It is counterproductive to annoy the donor. This is not good stewardship and doesn’t help “Agency X” in its efforts to secure the next contribution from me.
  2. It can result in fines to “Agency X” if the IRS ever found out.

What is the potential penalty? Here is what the code says:

“A penalty is imposed on charities that do not meet the written disclosure requirement. The penalty is $10 per contribution, not to exceed $5,000 per fundraising event or mailing.”

If you want to learn more, Joanne Fritz at about.com does a nice job explaining it. You can also click here to get it directly from the IRS.

Note: “Agency X” does not exist. I am not calling out any one particular non-profit organization in my philanthropy portfolio. The aforementioned examples are a “compilation” of things I’ve purchased over the last 10 years. Please don’t add me to you special event mailing list.  :-)

Please scroll down and use the comment box below to share the “boilerplate language” that your agency uses at the bottom of its special event gift acknowledgement letters. Please trust me that 30 seconds of your time will benefit countless smaller non-profit agencies. If I had a nickel for every time I was asked for sample boilerplate language, I’d be rich! We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Gift acknowledgement letters, quid pro quo and the IRS


I cannot count the number of times that I’ve attended a non-profit organization’s special event fundraiser and walked away with a gift acknowledgement letter that was not compliant with “IRS Publication 1771, Charitable Contributions–Substantiation and Disclosure Requirements”.

Rather than use the language of accountants and tax professionals to explain, I’ll let the following hypothetically example speak for itself.

  • My first contribution to “Agency X” is the purchase of two dinner tickets for what I am hoping will be the best rubber chicken of my life. My out-of-pocket expenses to get in the room is $120.
  • When I show up, I am assaulted by happy volunteers selling 50-50 raffle tickets. My out-of-pocket expenses to get these intensely happy people who are blocking my path to the bar is $20.
  • With a nice glass of wine in my hand, I am finally able to mingle with old friends, but I end distracted by all of the shiny objects in the silent auction. <<Sigh>> At the end of the evening, I discover that “Agency X” is deeper into my wallet for another $250 in out-of-pocket expenses.
  • The final blow came many glasses of wine into the evening during the live auction (ahhhh, of course it is always the booze and the live auction that sinks most donors). Those Opening Day Chicago Cubs tickets had my name written all of them and only cost $1,000.

So, the next morning usually comes with a hangover and regret (even though “Agency X” is an amazing charity and you’re always happy to have supported their awesome mission). A few days later in the mail comes a gift acknowledgement letter. It tells me how wonderful I am and contains some nice “return on investment” and stewardship verbiage. Ahhhh, gotta love that warm fuzzy feeling.

You’re probably wondering “What’s wrong with all that?”

Well, the gift acknowledgement letter thanked me for my charitable contribution of $1,390.

Sure, if you do the math $120 + $20 + $250 + $1,000 does add up to $1,390, but this was not size of my “charitable contribution” according to the Internal Revenue Service, and now  I need to take time out of my busy day to chase down the executive director or fundraising professional at “Agency X” for a correct letter. To help clarify the math, here is exactly what the IRS has to say on the subject:

“A donor may only take a contribution deduction to the extent that his/her contribution exceeds the fair market value of the goods or services the donor receives in return for the contribution; therefore, donors need to know the value of the goods or services.”

Let’s circle back and do the math one more time:

  • The event tickets cost $120, but the food I received in exchange for the ticket purchase was valued at $20 per plate. So, $120 minus $40 means that the charitable contribution only amounted to $80.
  • The $20 in raffle tickets got me four chances at a cash prize. The “value” I received for those chances was twenty bucks. So, $20 minus $20 means that I didn’t make a charitable contribution in the eyes of the IRS.
  • The silent auction was a huge benefit to me because I got some amazing bargains. Woo Hoo! Move over Wal-Mart! So, I might have spent $250, but the items I won totaled $500 in value. So, $250 minus $500 means that I didn’t make a charitable contribution in the eyes of the IRS.
  • And last but certainly not least, there was the booze fueled live auction. The bad news . . . it was $1,000. The good news . . . I finally got something to write off on my taxes. Opening Day tickets to see another woeful season of the Chicago Cubs are valued at $500 (of course, White Sox fans would argue that they are worth nothing). So, $1,000 minus $500 means that I can deduct $500 from my taxes next year.

The IRS tells us that it is legitimate to acknowledge my overall gift of $1,390 as long as somewhere (usually at the bottom of the letter in a footnote) there is language that explains that the fair market value of the items I purchased was $810 and only $580 of my $1,390 contribution is tax-deductible.

In my experience as a donor, this rarely happens and I end up wasting my time chasing after a new gift acknowledgement letter. The harm to “Agency X” is twofold:

  1. It is counterproductive to annoy the donor. This is not good stewardship and doesn’t help “Agency X” in its efforts to secure the next contribution from me.
  2. It can result in fines to “Agency X” if the IRS ever found out.

What is the potential penalty? Here is what the code says:

“A penalty is imposed on charities that do not meet the written disclosure requirement. The penalty is $10 per contribution, not to exceed $5,000 per fundraising event or mailing.”

If you want to learn more, Joanne Fritz at about.com does a nice job explaining it. You can also click here to get it directly from the IRS.

Note: “Agency X” does not exist. I am not calling out any one particular non-profit organization in my philanthropy portfolio. The aforementioned examples are a “compilation” of things I’ve purchased over the last 10 years. Please don’t add me to you special event mailing list.  🙂

Please scroll down and use the comment box below to share the “boilerplate language” that your agency uses at the bottom of its special event gift acknowledgement letters. Please trust me that 30 seconds of your time will benefit countless smaller non-profit agencies. If I had a nickel for every time I was asked for sample boilerplate language, I’d be rich! We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

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