Will sending donation receipts every month cause donors to leave? Today, we look into the real issues behind monthly donor receipts.

Our entire lives, we’re taught to say thank you as part of having good manners. And when it comes to saying thank you to donors—it’s no different. In fact, the pros at Bloomerang have done some insightful research that shows how closely donor acknowledgment is tied to donor retention.

And according to them, if you want to retain more donors (which I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t!), then you need to…

  • Thank donors promptly,
  • Thank donors personally, and
  • Thank donors with a powerful demonstration of the gift’s impact.

The big question is: should you send monthly donor receipts to a monthly giver?

Most people insist acknowledging and thanking monthly donors should be done occasionally, quarterly at best.

I have a radically different view.

Recurring donors should be thanked every time they give.

That’s right. Every time.

Why nonprofits don’t send monthly donor receipts

I’ve heard many reasons not to send monthly donor receipts.

The most common reason is that donors will grow tired of receiving receipts every single month.

The concern here is that your organization is showing up too many times in the donor’s inbox, that you’ll overwhelm the donor with more documentation for them to organize. Better to send one receipt at the end of the year for them to use during tax season.

At first, this has some logic to it… because who wants to deal with more official receipts or other tax-related documents, right?

But this is simply not the case in today’s subscription-driven economy.

Think about it. Do you pay for any monthly software service like Dropbox, Netflix, or even a monthly magazine subscription?

For almost all of these monthly recurring transactions, you’ll receive a receipt in your inbox.

And when that monthly receipt arrives, do you feel a sense of aggravation? Panic? Anger?

No.

You simply archive the email into a receipts folder, tag, or label. Or, like other people, you might just leave the email in your inbox. No need for concern there!

But there’s another reason nonprofits fail to send monthly donor receipts that worries me.

Many nonprofits are afraid donors will stop giving if they’re reminded of the gift

The concern some nonprofits have is that when a monthly receipt arrives, it reminds the donor of the recurring gift, they’ll regret having ever made the gift, and immediately jump to stop you from taking their hard-earned cash by canceling the transaction.

But this fear is short-sighted — and even worse, it keeps you from raising more donors.

It’s entirely possible you might lose a few donors if you receipt them. It’s okay.

It simply means they weren’t your supporter anyway. Maybe they were a donor at one time, but now they’ve decided not to be one. You shouldn’t hold them hostage.

Your donors are not your adversary. They are your friends. They’re willing partners thrilled to be part of your mission.

You shouldn’t be terrified or embarrassed to acknowledge them. They are already on your side—that’s why they’re on your list.

They want to help.

The culture of scarcity

If you’re scared of losing donors, something deeper is going on. Fundraising consultant Pamela Grow got to the heart of the matter in a recent tweet:

“Nonprofits are sick with a culture of scarcity and lack. Organizations that fall under the spell tend to be organization-centered rather than donor-centered…”

— Pamela Grow

I couldn’t agree with her more.

You don’t have to worry if a donor or two leaves… even if they’re some of your best donors.

If you are constantly worried about losing your donors by reminding them of their gifts, then you’re probably focusing on the wrong thing.

Fretting over monthly donor receipts means we are focusing on the immediate cash gift and missing the value of a long-term relationship with our donor.

Monthly donors are more than recurring transactions! If a monthly donor cancels, don’t assume that your monthly donor receipt made them cancel the gift.

There are many reasons a recurring donor may wish to cancel their gift.

Maybe they lost their job. Maybe they just had a child and their living expenses increased. Maybe one of their parents just passed away.

Take the gift cancelation as an opportunity to get to know your donor better.

A simple way to do this would be to call them and ask them why they canceled and see if you can help in any way.

Giving: a pain or a pleasure?

When we get nervous about reminding a donor of their gift, it shows what we really think about giving.

If giving is a pain, then of course we’d want to avoid talking about it with our donors. But if giving is a pleasure, then why wouldn’t we want to remind them of it?

True giving—even if it’s sacrificial—brings pleasure, not pain.

When you give, there’s a deep sense of satisfaction and joy that you are helping change the world through your gifts.

Some call this positive feeling the “helper’s high”. By appreciating your donor with monthly donor receipts, you can strengthen this feeling in their heart.

Interestingly, scientific research confirms this connection between gratitude and generosity.

Gratitude rewards generosity and maintains the giving cycle.

Don’t underestimate the power of saying thank you to your donors!

Why people give and how to tap into these drivers

According to a Nonprofit Times donor loyalty study, people donate for personal reasons:

  • They have a deep passion for the cause
  • They believe the organization depends on their donation, or
  • They know someone affected by the nonprofit’s mission.

How nice would it be if you could reinforce these motivations so donors can go even deeper with your organization?

Well, you can.

When you send your monthly receipts, it’s an awesome opportunity to tell your story and acknowledge donors at the same time.

Share a story about the impact their gift is making—and thank them for it. It will resonate personally. It will provide encouragement. It will build connection.

Here are a couple of examples.

“Because of you, today little Emma can have a glass of clean and safe water every day. She won’t get sick and spend countless days at the clinic and miss school as a result like before. Her educational future has been secured because of your generous gift.”

“Thanks to you, Rachel has escaped from the clutches of an abusive relationship. Her wounds have been treated and her bloated face has gone back to normal. Her beaming smile is back, all because of you.”

Humanitarian aid organization Food For The Hungry has really mastered this approach. They pick a brand-new story every month to share with their recurring givers.

That’s twelve new stories every year for their child sponsors! Twelve touch points when they acknowledge, appreciate, and motivate their donors.

Telling your story with RaiseDonors

Inside of RaiseDonors, we make it easy for you to share your story.

In your RaiseDonors settings, have two kinds of notifications. One is for a successful recurring donation. The other serves to notify donors that there has been a problem with their payment.

Each month, you can share a new story of the impact your donor has had.

RaiseDonors takes care of the details of the receipt. You take care of the storytelling!

Donor acknowledgement: a powerful gesture that draws donors deeper

Acknowledging donors is a simple yet powerful way to invite donors to make greater commitments and stay with you longer.

Why does it work?

It touches people at the core of their being. Humans long for acceptance, recognition, and significance. It’s a basic psychological need.

People are instinctively attracted to whoever or whatever affirms them.

So don’t miss the opportunity to deepen the relationship with your most committed donors. Instead, give your donors the love and recognition they deserve.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Product + Content Marketing at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.